This review was written in 2009 and originally published on AbsolutePunk.net. It has been very minimally edited before being republished.
Quick note to the rest of the albums coming out this year: The bar has just been set.
Over the years there have been a select group of artists that have become so well respected within our community that they have reached almost hallowed ground. Their recordings are considered by some as the pinnacle achievement of what our little music scene can create. These bands top many “all time favorite” lists – and even years later their influence and replayablity dominate the eardrums. I’d like to present to you the next candidate for admission: Manchester Orchestra.
I’m sorry to everyone that thought they’d be able to keep this band a secret for just a little bit longer, because after listening to their new release, Mean Everything to Nothing, it is undeniable that this band is poised to have an astonishing year. While the rest of the music listening population may be hyped on dance-pop or crunk-core, Manchester Orchestra have crafted an album that reminds us of the full blown power of rock music. An album that pounds your chest with each drum kick and rattles your brain with each swooping guitar line and melody. Channeling Brand New, the album is just accessible enough to draw in new converts – yet remain slightly enigmatic for the so called music enthusiast.
The album works best as a cohesive whole; each track fitting into the bigger picture. This allows the reprises to stand out and the band’s unique attributes to shine. The melodic guitar tones perfectly compliment lead singer Andy Hull’s hypnotic vocals and the band expands upon their previous work in a variety of ways. They toy with the listener by interweaving soft whispers and full blown snarl within the same track. The dichotomy works perfectly to entwine the listener’s attention amid the instruments, vocals, and lyrics. This level of well crafted intentionality showcases a band at the top of their game hell-bent on crafting a thematic experience between the headphones.
Your experience begins with “The Only One” – and as the first lines spill into the airwaves it’s hard to not be immediately captivated by the story unfolding before our ears. The track flirts with a mid-tempo pop sound while delivering some of my favorite lyrics from the album. I almost immediately smile at the lead singer’s revelation that he is “the only son of a pastor to do the things I do.” At roughly two and a half minutes the opening track is one of the shortest on the album, with most tracks walking the line between four and five minutes. The second track, “Shake it Out,” pushes this five minute mark – and is undoubtedly one of the biggest rock songs the band has written. It’s hard to not draw comparisons to Foo Fighters or recent Brand New as the guitar, bass, and drums playfully prove that instruments can be as emotionally charged as any vocal. I think it’s safe to say at this point Andy Hull has reached a level lyrically few others ever do; however, it’s the delivery of key lines that proves how you say it can be just as important as what you say. As Andy begins to scream … it’s impossible to not start inching the volume upward; hoping to capture the emotion within each swell.
The first single, “I’ve Got Friends,” moves fluidly between soft verses and one of the biggest hooks I’ve heard this year. The inevitability of this song’s anthem status is barely debatable – I find it tough to believe this won’t be one of the staples of their live shows for years to come. The layered chorus demands you sing along and is the perfect conduit to highlight the album’s top-drawer production: crisp sounds that allow the artist room to breathe without ever feeling heavy handed.
Each track brings its own new experience. From the heavy and brooding epic of “Pride” to the seemingly quick two minute “100 Dollars” – the band is capable of a variety of sounds that maintain a level of consistency rarely seen. The vocal delivery remains a highpoint and each track brings a level of familiarity to the table without ever feeling routine. If I were to pick a weak spot on the album, I want to say “My Friends Marcus” – however, the inclusion of a repeated line (found elsewhere on the album), as well as the inevitable fall after the emotional juggernaut that is “I Can Feel a Hot One,” makes it much more difficult. The album comes full circle as it ends with just as much force as it began. “Everything to Nothing” and “The River” seem to play off each other to form an ambitious lyrical journey of confusion and search for redemption — a feast that leads one craving another bite.
Between the crashing sounds, the subtle whispers, the vocal chants, and the emotional reaction – we have the makings of a classic. We have an album that clearly bridges the gap between mainstream and underground. If everyone else in the world wants to listen to neon-pop or hipster-dance music … that’s fine … I can turn the volume up loud enough to drown you out.