When The Maccabees, Orlando Weeks’ former band, announced their farewell tour a shade under four years ago, there was a feeling on the one hand of sadness at the end of a rather likeable band, but on the other, contentedness that they had the sense to go out on a high: after a faltering, rather identikit set of early records, their final two albums showed a band growing into itself, sounding more like themselves than their influences.
Thankfully, that trajectory of increasing confidence and maturity appears to have continued into Weeks’ debut solo record, written in response to becoming a father 18 months ago: A Quickening draws inspiration almost exclusively from noticeably sophisticated sources, be it the clean, spacious soundworld of Radiohead’s The King of Limbs, Robert Wyatt’s episodic Rock Bottom, or, most impressively, the yearning ache of Talk Talk’s Spirit of Eden, an album often imitated badly but, here, worthy of the comparison.
Accordingly, the opening trio of ‘Milk Breath’, ‘Blood Sugar’ and ‘Safe in Sound’ revel in mournful distant trumpet, brittle loops of guitar and anxious chord progressions, and the coda of buzzing background brass and tumbling piano on ‘Takes A Village’ is evocative of a kind of heady fuzz and disorientation of sleepless nights.
If all this is occasionally rather over-tasteful and polite, though, the album’s back half is where Weeks really finds his feet, with the final six tracks acting almost as a self-contained suite of songs that channel insularity and contemplation, warmth, gentle muscularity, sporadic passion and a sense of poise and clarity of thought that never truly cut through in Weeks’ old band: ‘Blame or Love or Nothing’ and ‘None Too Tough’ are the stand-outs, the former with a vocal line that never quite starts or stops where convention dictates, carving out melodies that run counter to the grain, the latter shimmering and beatific, with a reassuringly traditional horn riff midway through that earths the song. The bells and clunks and rattles in the album’s final minute pairing dissonance underneath deeply romantic piano balladeering makes for a fitting close to a record drawn from the emotional maelstrom of parenthood.
Another commendable feature: while this is an almost defiantly grown-up record, about serious, mature issues, and Weeks is clearly hoping to throw off his past as a onetime puppy-dog-eyed indie frontman, A Quickening carries refreshingly little flab: all songs bar one come in at under 4 minutes, and for all its musical perfectionism and thematic introspection, it’s never self-indulgent, as some parenthood records can be. Instead, A Quickening is calm and intense, tactile and sleepy-eyed, and, perhaps most satisfyingly for Orlando Weeks himself, an indicator of continued progress.