Since emerging as teenagers with songwriting beyond their years, Manchester Orchestra have always had the knack of writing compelling alternative indie rock. 2006’s ‘I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child’ and its 2009 follow-up, ‘Mean Everything to Nothing’, set the benchmark early on for frontman Andy Hull and company. While 2011’s ‘Simple Math’ was almost on par, 2014’s ‘Cope’ saw them abandon their familiar quiet-loud dynamic in favour of a straight bold rock sound. In the intervening years between ‘Cope’ and fifth album, ‘A Black Mile to the Surface’, Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell worked on the voice-only soundtrack for ‘Swiss Army Man’.
Having familiarised themselves within a cinematic environment, ‘A Black Mile…’ sees them embrace it, not through grandeur but through a seamless collection of layered songs that explore a surreal array of characters. From the uplifting opening track, ‘The Maze’ to the brooding conclusion that is ‘The Silence’, Manchester Orchestra have the listener gripped throughout.
Songs such as ‘The Gold’, ‘The Moth’ and ‘The Wolf’ are comforting in their familiarity; relying on soft verses giving way sonic soundscapes. While ‘The Mistake’ ebbs and flows hypnotically with Hull releasing the occasional “woo!” yet is underpinned by the band’s brewing intensity.
‘The Alien’ is a folky intimate and evocative number with haunting vocals. When it’s expertly segued into ‘The Sunshine’ and ‘The Grocery’, Hull’s narrative songwriting really shines, with the latter serving as an emotional release. However, it is on ‘The Parts’ where Hull seemingly bares his all. Spacious and confessional, it’s a gut-wrenching, stripped back highlight.
By exploring their sonic tendencies and combining it with their exceptional songwriting prowess, ‘A Black Mile…’ should, and demands to, be heard in full. It is a record that you live with for days, even weeks. With the initial aim to create a “non-Manchester” record, Manchester Orchestra have evolved and pushed themselves to deliver a career highlight. It is truly a compelling achievement of a record.
‘A Black Mile To The Surface’ by Manchester Orchestra is released on 28th July on Loma Vista Recordings.
Words by Sêan Reid (@SeanReid86)