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maxhalton
3rd March 2024

Everything Everything – Mountainhead: An alt-pop pinnacle

Everything Everything’s seventh album sees them at their dance pop peak, without sacrificing any of the dark introspection that’s made the band a cult classic
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Everything Everything – Mountainhead: An alt-pop pinnacle
Credit: Carry On Press

Everything Everything always want to dazzle you. With that in mind, the Manchester four-piece have spent fifteen years crafting records that burst out from speakers like CD shards and oil slicks – glinting, prismatic, and subtly violent. Mountainhead, their seventh album, is no exception. It might even be their best.

Painting the image at the core of the album in usefully broad strokes – a mountain that must grow forever at the expense of those who live at its base – Mountainhead is pleasingly approachable. The success of its lead single, ‘Cold Reactor’, is testament to the precise, shining pop production that underpins the record, masterminded by Alex Robertshaw (guitar) and Tom A.D. Fuller. Propelled by Jeremy Pritchard’s tight basslines, ‘Cold Reactor’ sneaks frontman Jonathan Higgs’ obliquely dark lyrics onto the radio, his meditations on Capitalist Realism draped in a veil of floating synth melodies.

High gloss pop sits front and centre on the record, and the band’s interest in dance and techno is more apparent than ever. ‘R U Happy’ compels you to “dance in your skeleton way” with its rhythm as much as its lyrics, Mike Spearman’s house inspired drums shifting the track up a gear with a beat your body can’t help but respond to. Robertshaw’s now characteristic modular synth work pushes the song into PC Music-esque glitchcore excellence in four bar bursts, tripping over itself in hyperactive fervour.

Synths redeploy vocal samples from the first moment of the opener, ‘Wild Guess’, to the album’s close. Building the record’s melodic foundations, machined vocal chops combine with film samples used to create a sense of metropolis in ‘City Song’, choral countermelodies in songs like ‘Your Money, My Summer’, and Higgs’ own signature vocals that bounce virtuosically from chest voice to falsetto.

The result is a giant sonic decoupage, a collage of texture building up out from the album to create depth, or more appropriately, height, altitude. The dance pop hooks of ‘Don’t Ask Me To Beg’ and ‘Enter The Mirror’ explode from Higgs at the peak of the mountain, drenched in reverb as they search for a response from below. Mountainhead doesn’t want you to stall because no reply comes. It wants you to dance.

Four men in matching outfits stood against a purple a background. They are lit sharply with red and blue light.
Credit: Carry On Press

This is not to say that the album is unthinking, or lacks the darker moments which characterise Everything Everything’s alt-pop. ‘Canary’ interrupts the album with a vicious eulogy of sorts, repeatedly begging that we “heed the warning” of those who fight the system, the “canary under the ground” mourned with an angry, sawing drop in the chorus that cedes ground only to Robertshaw’s searing guitar.

‘Dagger’s Edge’ is the band at their best. Higgs’ dense, rhythmically compelling lyrics are spat out over saturated guitar, palm muted as though through gritted teeth, before expanding to a huge chorus. Reminiscent of ‘No Reptiles’, the band’s show closer since its release, the back half of the song sees Higgs’ narrator spiral through repeating couplets, telling himself as much as his audience that “your life is not the one you ordered” over frantic, crescendoing guitar; repeating, fractured arpeggios rise like sirens through shattered glass.

After this overwhelm, the album’s final two tracks sit sparse and introspective. The summit reached, they ask you to stay a while on your way back down. ‘City Song’ wallows in the anonymity of urban life, trying to take comfort in being part of a faceless mass. Higgs’ sparse lyrics settle over repeated assurances that “you’re not alone.” Surprisingly unprocessed room tone piano gives way to thin fractal synth patterns that unfold incessantly, the city a Mandelbrot set.

The album’s closer, ‘The Witness’, feels as raw as the band has ever been. Over deliberately simple electronic production Higgs broaches memories he can only address via metaphor, facing a “whirlwind of their tears.” Circling despair but refusing its grip, the album ends with a hopeful invocation of the future, a child’s laughter – “Alex’s daughter laughing,” in fact, as Higgs told me last week – defiant over soft, lilting strings. Where there was no response to his shouts from the peak at first, this final echo suggests a rose-tinted reply to be found in the dark below.

To contain the most danceable and most introspective poles of a back catalogue in one album is no mean feat, and doing so without the shifts in tone ever feeling jarring is even more impressive. Listening to Mountainhead, it’s hard to find anything other than a band in their pomp – all peak and no pit.

Max Halton

Max Halton

Max is doing a masters in Gender, Sexuality, and Culture, and distracts herself from this by writing about how great live music is.

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