A MERCURY PRIZE-nominated debut LP that was sometimes thrilling and occasionally brilliant, Man Alive was crammed with staccato lyrics, taut with musical invention but some claim it was packed with too many ideas. Hardly a crime, I say.
Either way, follow up Arc is a more mature affair, more expansive, with a new breadth and, dare I say it, sensuality to songs both tender and dark.
It shoulders a soulful inventiveness, and the abundance of ideas come with increased accessibility and songs to woo us, both hearts and minds.
There’s also the small matter of environmental apocalypse infused into its fabric – enough to play on anyone’s emotions.
The Tynedale lads sing songs that sound utterly contemporary, and it’s in that overarching modernity, in their singer’s love of the falsetto and in lyricism full of absorbingly rich imagery and wordplay where they bring to mind Kendal’s Wild Beasts (think of Undrowned, full of alienation, greed and footballer’s wives, with their “system of pistons arachnid and blistered”).
So it’s Cumbrians and Northumbrians making the most vibrant, excitingly modern music around in Britain right now. That’ll do me.
Packed into the Academy’s second stage, recent single Kemosabe epitomises that new-found melodic accessibility, before Torso of the Week sees a mini audience singalong. A portent to bigger arenas? Maybe – it’d be a joy to hear off-centre lyrics about a “coiled heart, eye-toothed, feral child” chanted by thousands.
Choice Mountain is better here than on record, staccato at first, developing into ripples, then whole waves.
The Peaks is desolate and dramatic, though I’m not sure it entirely works in a crowded, sweaty venue too small for them these days. It’s sandwiched between two songs that demonstrate how the first album was so much more than a collection of ideas, the airbrush rush of Photoshop Handsome and a rock Suffragette Suffragette, both thrill with their bursts of yelping adrenaline.
Then, a remarkable Cough Cough. That a song with such a title became such a hit is remarkable, but no matter. It’s vigorous but with a hint of slow motion about it tonight: stuttering, battering, frame by freeze frame.
This lot have destiny in their own hands. Will early idiosyncrasy be sacrificed on the altar of accessibility? I’m not sure why they couldn’t have both.
The devilry of MY KZ, UR BF gives way to The House Is Dust, then Radiant, which repeatedly takes us to the cliff and dangles us over the edge.
Which is fitting for singer Jonathan Higgs, a man who smiles a lot through this gig, like a Bond villain. Maybe he’s simply pleased at coming home. I’d like to see him take the sinister route though, stroking a white cat, stage front to his band’s baroque backing.
Scheming genius or not, they could go very far.