The Genius Of… Sing the Word Hope in Four-Part Harmony by Maybeshewill
Just 13 months after their debut made them post-rock darlings, Maybeshewill doubled down on the riffs and voiced a socialist manifesto through song.
John Helps. Image: Andrew Benge / Redferns via Getty Images
By the late 2000s, the Western music world was flooded with artists trying to replicate the post-rock bliss of Sigur Rós and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. This Will Destroy You, 65daysofstatic, and Explosions In The Sky had all already done impeccable jobs of it, generating rave reviews and deep commercial dents for bands whose bread and butter were in atmospheric, instrumental movements. So it’s a testament to the talents of Maybeshewill that they were able to rise so quickly through such a saturated scene.
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When the Leicester quintet released their debut album, Not for Want of Trying, in 2008, it instantly found a host of influential admirers. Famed BBC Radio 1 DJ Huw Stephens declared the record to be his album of the week upon release before Maybeshewill’s post-rock peers And So I Watch You from Afar added them to their headlining tour later that same year. And, a decade and a half later, the album’s standout song, He Films the Clouds Part 2, has just broken the ten-million-stream barrier on Spotify.
Listening to Not for Want of Trying, you can hear why Maybeshewill were so special from the start. The contemporary post-rock sound was all about taking your standard pop band instruments – guitars, bass, and drums – and using that minimalist setup to weave crescendoing suites not unlike classical compositions. This bunch, on the other hand, threw everything at the wall. Not only did they also have a keyboardist among their ranks, but no soundscape was off-limits. While Not for Want of Trying and CNTRCKT were defined by their burly guitar riffs, Heartflusters thumped with filthy electro beats, and He Films the Clouds Part 2 added a rare singalong that remains the apex of any Maybeshewill show.
It was a hodge-podge of exciting and enticing ideas. However, in hindsight, it was more a group of misfit songs than a congruent record – and the band has admitted as much. “[Not for Want of Trying is] not so much an album but more a loosely related collection of songs that had been kicking around for a while”, guitarist Robin Southby told The Independent in 2016. “I think it almost has the flow of an album but not quite”.
Maybeshewill were intriguing yet amorphous. So musically enigmatic as to be unknowable. But then they released Sing the Word Hope in Four-Part Harmony in the summer of 2009, and their identity became crystal clear.
Energized by their And So I Watch You from Afar tour – and, as guitarist John Helps has put it, “learning [how] to be a real band” in the process – Maybeshewill returned with a thematically and musically focused statement. Sing… was a more uniformly ferocious post-metal pummeling, commencing with the booming guitars of You Can’t Shake Hands with a Clenched Fist. The brilliantly named How to Have Sex with a Ghost flaunted so many sliding chords that it sounded like the sludgiest riff Mastodon never wrote, and there was even a dash of downtuned nu-metal aggro to This Time Last Year.
None of that sacrificed Maybeshewill’s uniqueness, though. After Co-Conspirators refined the model Not for Want of Trying built by accompanying clean guitar notes with swirling keyboard lines, Accept and Embrace spread those idiosyncrasies out to form a six-minute centerpiece. Plus, the messages behind the music grew even clearer across the board.
There were some political currents pulsing through Not for Want of Trying – predominantly when the title track sampled the iconic “You’ve got to get mad…” speech from Network. Sing… exacerbated those into a mission statement. Co-Conspirators quoted 1982 legal drama The Verdict (“there is no justice: the rich win, the poor are powerless”), then the title track’s spoken-word narration laid Maybeshewill’s MO bare. Although it lamented climate change, misinformation and war crimes, it concluded with an optimism for a fairer future: “These are tough times but we seek solace in our friends and co-conspirators. We make small differences in each other’s lives and dream that we can make real progress.” The left-leaning, egalitarian politics were undeniable.
“The general message of [Sing…] is reflected in the title,” Southby explained in the aforementioned Independent interview. “It was around the time of the American presidential elections, when Obama was gaining support and momentum. A lot of the samples on that record reference that feeling of a vaguely liberal socialist bent. It felt like a really positive time for the world.”
Fourteen years and three albums later, Maybeshewill have never doubled down on the heaviness of Sing…, but they’ve certainly continued their activism. They’ve used their Robot Needs Home label to release music by fledgling artists, and latest album No Feeling Is Final sampled an environmentalist outcry by Labour MP Zarah Sultana. And Sing… is where these intentions first made themselves overt – not bad for an instrumental record without a second of singing on it.
Not for Want of Trying and Sing the Word Hope in Four-Part Harmony are being reissued on vinyl this year. Pre-orders are now available.
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