Given that they split up in 2017, any fans of The Maccabees yearning for new music from the band will be chomping at the bit to hear the debut solo work from frontman Orlando Weeks. What they find though, is going to be rather different to what they might have expected.
Part of the mid to late ’00s boom in indie rock, The Maccabees were neatly pigeonholed next to the likes of Bloc Party, Bombay Bicycle Club and Maxïmo Park. A Quickening is a world away from the frantic indie-pop that made Weeks’ name though – instead, it’s an intensely personal piece about new parenthood that slowly weaves its magic.
There’s barely a guitar riff to be heard on any track, with Weeks’ voice being augmented by gently brushed drums, piano, and synths. There’s a softly meditative, lullaby-like quality to the tracks on A Quickening – appropriately enough, as it tells the tale of the birth of Weeks’ son.
It’s a tale told in reverse though – opening with Milk Breath which sees Weeks watching his newly born baby sleep, with “big dreams in your head”. It’s a soft, contended opening to the record, touched with the occasional anxiety that new parenthood brings: “Rise and fall of your milk chest… lay a hand to be sure”.
From there, we go through the stages of Weeks’ partner’s pregnancy. The final song, Dreams, is set at the start of pregnancy, with the whispered phrase “…and someone coming” the final line of the album. In between there’s the realisation of permanent contentment in None Too Tough, as Weeks asks if “the black dog… has it lifted off?”, and a pregnancy scan in St Thomas’s where Weeks can “see those fingers signalling”.
Lyrically, it’s a record that could have easily been cloying and over-sentimental, but Weeks avoids that by making it so personal. The sense of how long a pregnancy can seem is highlighted in Safe And Sound (“I would wait forever to hear that sound you’ll make”) while the lovely All The Things is touchingly direct when it talks of how it’s “hard to believe you can love someone up to now, you spend no time together”.
It’s the musical arrangements that Weeks drapes these songs in though that makes it such a successful album. There are snatches of muted brass, and any drumbeats are gently skittering away in the background. There are definite nods to Bon Iver, and even to some of Thom Yorke‘s solo material. While it ebbs and flows gracefully, sometimes it can seem a bit too quiet and lulled – it’s definitely not an album which jumps up and grabs you, and at times, it seems the perfect record to gently nod off to.
That’s not a criticism though, as you get the impression that this was an album that was always designed to slip gently under the radar. It’s not a Maccabees revival, but rather a delicate, fragile document of a life-changing event – and one that will touch the heart of both parents and non-parents.