Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Album Review: Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math

There was once a time (and by that, I mean no more than about six months ago) when I hated Manchester Orchestra simply because of their name (which sounds way to goddamn hipster-ish for my tastes) and their perceived-to-be shitty fanbase. However, as has been the case at least 674 times in the past, I actually listened to them and discovered that they were, musically, right up my alley.

2009's "Mean Everything to Nothing" is what got me hooked on Manchester Orchestra, mostly because I heard the track "I've Got Friends" on MLB 11: The Show and was instantly in love. The rest of the album proved to be the exact type of shit that I had been looking for over the past few years, and I decided to check into the rest of their material. That's when I stumbled across their latest effort, "Simple Math" (released in May of this year). It took me a few listens to get into it, as it does not contain the amount of energy that "Mean Everything to Nothing" possesses.

The album starts off with "Deer," a somewhat dreary and depressing track that sounds a hell of a lot like Neil Young. The deeply personal lyrical content sets the tone for the rest of the album, as you can easily feel the anguish and regret that vocalist/guitarist Andy Hull is trying to convey to the listener. There isn't much in the way of drums or distortion during the opening track; it's more of a "dude-and-his-stool" type of song. However, the band doesn't waste any time kicking into high gear with the opening notes of the second track, "Mighty." You get a little bit of a feel for Diorama-era Silverchair musically (as the band throws in some legit orchestra parts), while Hull seamlessly flows through the track lyrically. There's a lot of technicality to this track, as it includes an array of drum fills and stays relatively heavy all the way through.

"Pensacola" sounds almost like a jingle that would fit perfectly with a FreeCreditReport.com commercial. With that being said, it has a pretty catchy gang-vocal chorus line - "Alcohol, Dirty Malls, Pensacola, Florida Bars." The fourth track, "April Fool," is downright awesome. This is where the band finally exhibits some of the raw emotion and energy that is captured so well on their previous album. It has more than a few good old-fashioned rock-and-roll riffs, and just generally flows well and has great hooks.

"Pale Black Eye" comes next, and it is absolutely the highlight of the record. So many things are done well in this song that it is truly hard to explain - a simple listen will do the trick. This song will, no doubt in my mind, draw you in the first time you hear it. The musicianship is outstanding, and the song builds up incredibly well. If the closing chorus doesn't give you the chills, I'll let you punch me in the face a bunch of times should you see me in person. Absolutely stunning track.

"Virgin" doesn't leave a whole lot to be desired either, as the band incorporates a youth choir of some sort, a la Underoath in their hit track "It's Dangerous Business Walking Out Your Front Door," or even Pink Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall." This track is a lot simpler, as the chorus is the base of the song, but it works really well in this case. It also doesn't hurt that the track is incredibly heavy.

After "Virgin," the album falls off just a little bit in terms of intensity/energy/emotion. Granted, the remaining tracks are still done well, but they don't highlight the band's real strength, in my opinion. And, judging by their live performance (and specifically, the songs the band chooses to play live), Manchester Orchestra would probably agree with me. That's not to say that the last few songs aren't catchy, though, because they are. The album's closer, "Leaky Breaks," gives us another good dose of Hull's insanely personal lyrics, laid out over some basic-yet-fitting musicianship. Good ending (although not as epic as Mean Everything to Nothing's closing track) to a fantastic album.

Rating: 8/10
Recommended if you like: Brand New, Neil Young, Bright Eyes
Favorite Track: "Pale Black Eye"


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