Manchester Orchestra
A Black Mile to the Surface

Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface

This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on June 9th, 2016. First impressions are meant to be quick, fun, initial impressions on an album or release as I listen to it for the first time. It’s a running commentary written while listening to an album — not a review. More like a diary of thoughts. This post has been lightly edited for structure and flow.

Why hello there.

Ever since the album showed up in my inbox, this has been probably the most requested “first listen” blog yet. I was waiting until the embargo ended to talk and write about this one in more detail, and with the announcement and single release today … I figured I might as well just kick this one out right now! The album is out in about a month and a half, so it’s not super early, and this will also allow me to come back to this thread in the next month and add new thoughts as I continue to listen and grow with this album.

I think that’s the thing I’m most worried about in doing this specific “first listen” … this album just feels so dense, lush, and packed, that a “first impression” feels strange to do. It’s the kind of album that demands a long and detailed analysis, and I know I won’t be able to do that with this kind of format. But, that said, I’m gonna do my best with a one listen dive, and I plan to use the pause button where needed. Hope you can cut me a little slack on the lack of detailed analysis, as I’ll be more talking about the vibe, feel, and description of the album during this run-through.

I’ve been a huge Manchester Orchestra fan since I first heard ILAV. I think it was an old staffer named Jake Wallace that sent me the album and said, this could be the next Brand New. I was immediately blown away by the lyrics and emotion that came out of it. A rock album that felt big. Then METN really felt like the band taking their sound to a new level, reaching outward, and creating basically a classic in the genre. It also cemented them up there as one of my favorite bands that would always be in my rotation. Simple Math was met with fan-backlash on I never really got that. I think people just expected another straight rock record, and SM felt too different to them. I loved it. I still do. Great album, very personal lyrics, and a batch of songs I definitely associated with a specific time in my life.

After the past few weeks, I’ve found that I enjoy and praise Cope/Hope more than most it seems. I get the complaints, I get the production/sounds the same complaints … I do … but I still really like that album. When I’m in the mood for an album that just feels loud and in my face, I’m all about it. When the fall comes around, Hope is right in my wheelhouse. It’s hauntingly perfect for a late night with the lights off and a good drink. I think the new album sits right between what the band did with SM, Hope, and the Swiss Army Man soundtrack. It’s brooding, intense, musically expansive … but I’d describe it as slower, more somber, with nothing that feels like like the loudness of Cope or some of their albums past. Where it felt like SM would toss a song into the mix every now and then as a favor to the old fans or the ones that wanted a specific sound … that doesn’t exist here. It’s a full thought, completely realized, and without compromise.

I think it’s fucking incredible.

It’s an album I keep finding myself being pulled to turning on. Wanting to get lost in it, and knowing once it starts it’s almost impossible to turn away. Last night I had it on as I was sitting on the living room floor cataloging my vinyl collection in Discogs (this sounds so nerdy) and it just felt like one of those albums you hope you get to hear in your life while doing exactly that. Vinyl all around on the floor, great music on, and the kind of moment you feel in your bones.

Ok, so let’s do this!

Tonight’s beer of choice: Deschutes’ Pacific Wonderland Lager.

As always, I reserve the right to change my mind in the future, this isn’t really a review as much as it is just me listening to the album, writing some thoughts down, and speaking off the cuff about what I like, don’t like, and the over all impression the album gives me.

Feel free to jump in either now or later with questions or anything you’d like to know more on, I can always expand and offer more thoughts and such.

The Maze

9:30pmThe album begins with a haunting hum, and Andy’s distinct vocals come in with hush.

“I notice you when you’re noticing me, breaking the habit you’re watching me sleep.”

It’s soft, calming…

9:31pmThe song builds with collection of lush layers, the drums sounding big, and a variety of sounds swirling through the music.

9:32pmThis line sticks out to me on every listen:

“I never mind about bothering you, I’m trying to decide if I’ll bother with you….”

I love the way it comes off his tongue, and it’s one of those sly knowing lyrics.

9:33pmAt about the minute mark we get some background vocals. Again, I would describe this as haunting. The way Andy conveys a meekness and strength at the same time has always impressed me.

The song is slow. Almost hymn-like at times.

Nice little electronic flourishes in the background I didn’t notice before but can hear better with headphones.

9:35pmBig choral vocal chant, with some hushed reading in the background. These voices appear throughout the album and I still haven’t figured out all what they’re saying.

“You lift that burden off of me.”

9:37pmLittle drum tap. And we’re into …

The Gold

9:37pmI’m assuming most people have heard this one already, but damn, what a great song. It’s a leader as one of my favorites on the album. I wouldn’t really call “The Maze” an intro, but it effectively works as one. It’s a slow build, mood setting, and then we get one of the more “upbeat” like songs on the album.

I was drawn to this one right away. Still remains a highlight. The way the vocals and instruments work together with that strummed guitar are just perfect.

9:38pmThat moment where everything pulls back …. haha, I knew people were going to love that.

9:39pmI would say that this song is a pretty good indication of the direction of this album. That the sound, the feel, the production … it’s right in line with what this album is all about.

“Iiiiiiiii believed you were crazy …”

I am looking forward to seeing this one live.

9:41pmThose layered vocals around the 3 minute mark get used a lot in the album and I think the way it punches up the song is great.

The Moth

9:42pmThis is up there as maybe my favorite song on these first few listens. I think it plays right out of “The Gold” perfectly, and puts together a fantastic one-two-punch.

9:43pmSo we start out with a similar guitar sound as “The Gold,” but it’s got a more haunting, driving feel behind it. This was the first place to me where I understood what the band was going for with a mix of their sounds, and the soundtrack.

Andy’s vocals come in, and as he sings there’s such a great little counter melody in the background.

“The last thing that you heard was an inebriated slur, you can crash here all you want, but you don’t live here anymore.”


There’s a way out.
There’s a way in.
There’s a way out.
There’s a way in.

I think that’s what he’s saying in the pre-chorus. Which leads into maybe the “loudest” part of the album? It’s not an album I would consider loud, or bombastic at all, but this little part is where Andy gets a tad shout-y, and belts about as much as he does on the album. It’s not really a scream …. but it’s a pulled and restrained but audible …. “awwwwwwwww.”

“The closer that you get, the further up you’ve got to climb.”

9:49pm”You wanna hear it hurt, you wanna feel it when he dies.”

I still haven’t completely figured out what this song is about. But there’s some great lines here. I may go so far as to say I think this is Andy’s best lyrical album front to back. (As someone that adores ILAV and Hope’s lyrics.)

9:50pmKinda feel like this is what Brand New’s “You Stole” maybe coulda been. That one never was quite as great as I wanted it to be. But when all the harmonies kick in here I get goosebumps.

Around the 3:10 mark the song really builds into a musical high.

9:51pmI want the lyrics. It’s hard to catch all this.

Music pulls back, you hear a child’s voice, and then the “awwwww” comes crashing back in.

9:52pmMost of the songs have an outro of some kind with voices. Sounds like people talking over the top of each other.

Lead, SD

9:52pmI feel like this song sets the stage/backbone for most of the album. It’s the one that feels like it was probably one of the first songs written, and that it helped define where the album was going to go in each stylistic direction — a little more, and a little less.

9:53pmSidebar: Hannah is making dinner in the other room and choppin onions. My eyes are now watering. Hahaha.

9:56pmLittle distorted synthy action. It sounds like it’s building into something huge … but as it grows, it quickly gives to Andy’s vocals: “There are parts of me just stuck inside the grocery, the produce aisle where the dead beats? [inaudible], but they’re hiiiiiigh like me.”

I’ve rewound like 5 times and can’t quite make out that line. Like the “phone line” thing they had people call, there’s repeated little parts of phone calls or conversations here in the background. They come and go, they’re not distracting, but they’re within the layers of the track.

9:59pmGod, I love this chorus.

“This is temporary, I just heard I’m gonna be a dad. South Dakota every winter someone loses it, I’m lost without a single clue as to where I’m headed. Wait for her cause without her I’m gonna sink.” (Something like that?) And then there’s a cool little distorted noise that reminds me a little of the “ahhhhawwwwww” part in the Dragon Tattoo NIN song.

OK, maybe this is the most “rock” part of the album. This mid-section it actually gets going more than I remember. But then pulls back again pretty fast. A nice wintery pretty vibe.

10:02pm”Microscopic specks of love being raptured to you, heard a sound that was paranormal…”

10:02pmWish I had the lyrics in front of me to make sure this was right. Haha. God the layers and how much the pack into this song is awesome.

The Alien

10:05pmOn my first listen I think this was my “least” favorite song. I couldn’t really tell what the lyrics were about (still can’t), and it felt a little long. Now, I look forward to it each time. It’s different. I mean, makes sense, it’s titled “The Alien.”

10:06pmFolksy-ish opening. Definitely a big storyteller vibe. I love the way Andy chooses certain words to hold and extend.

10:08pm”When the first officer arrived, it happened to be the high-school bully of your brother, and when you finally recognized, you felt some guilt that you would even let him touch you.”

It’s lines like this that make me know I’m missing a bigger picture, and need more time with the album, specifically with lyrics, to figure out the theme, what’s going on, and where this connects with the album as a whole. Because this whole song, especially at its length and where it sits in the sequence … clearly is a keystone to all of that.

I mean, any song that gets “it’s an allllllllliiiiiieeeeeeen” sung throughout it is gonna be a little out there.

10:10pmThis song definitely has grown on me. I love the little guitar work in the background here and the piano is a great touch.

“The doctor ask about your ears, you said your mom said you were made from a revelation. A revelation never scares, if you came from your drunken dad and a pair of scissors.”

I think I’m hearing that right.

10:12pm”And maybe you were just letting go, but did you mean to take out all those people with you.”

I think this is a call back to an earlier song, but, again, sorry, without more time and lyrics I’m gonna be useless at piecing it together. Such a strange song to me. Hah. I think that every time I get to it. Really curious what people are going to think about this one if they release it.

The Sunshine

10:15pmThis one only comes in at 2 minutes, but it’s a highlight for me. I love it.

“I already know that I don’t already know.”

This song has this vibe to it that’s hard for me to really pin down. It feels familiar and like a band on a front porch in some mid-western state just jamming a little with a little whiskey in the belly.

I don’t really care if you don’t understand, you are, moonlight.
I don’t really mind, if you don’t really mind, you are, sunshine.

10:18pmThe song has an interlude-y vibe to it, but man, it’s so addicting.

Last 30 seconds definitely I can see the “Radiohead” vibe Drew mentioned earlier. I didn’t hear that until just right now though. It mixes together in a way that I could see that. And then it transitions pretty hard into “The Grocery.” Which, we definitely already heard about in another track as well. I’ll leave it to smarter people than me to figure out the connections.

The Grocery

10:20pmThis one really reminds me of something from “Simple Math” with the keys and finger picking.

“I wanna feel the way my father felt, is it easier for me, I wanna know if there’s a higher love oblivious to me.”

Distorted guitars are cool.

“So you walk into the grocery, and you unload several rounds.” This plays into an earlier song as well.

10:23pmThis feels like a song if they play live they’ll pump up the guitars here.

10:24pmSuch an interesting track. I haven’t really paid attention to the lyrics before, dark.

I love when Andy does the little yell thing, where his voice goes even higher and he belts. Hah. Always a highlight.

The Wolf

10:27pmAn early love for me. I love it more every time it starts, every time I hear it. If they release this as a single next, I’d be very, very happy cause I think people are going to lose their minds a little at that point having heard this and “The Gold” to define this album.

10:27pmHaunting. Building. Drums and spooky air.

(Ok, second beer grabbed. I’m back. Whew, hands hurt. Damn RSI acting up a little again.)

10:32pmThis is the kind of song that’s so good that it makes me wanna go back and listen to the entire band’s discography and just obsessive over them. Ever have that happen? Where one song reminds you of how much you love the entire band? That’s what this song does for me.

It’s got the clips from the phone call thing in here as well.

“You’re paying too much for your life insurance policy.”

10:33pmSo much going on here with headphones it’s a little nuts.

“And it’s you, and me, and nothing in between. It’s right. And wrong. Goes on and on.”

I love the little hum, here, and then the raising keys. Very cinematic.

10:34pmThe layers are so thick and the vocals are all doubled and tripled in places it’s hard to really tell what he’s saying, sorry for not picking more out.

Yeah, this is still a favorite.

Haha, love how chaotic and weird and how much is going on in this one.

The Mistake

10:38pmWe get brought down, and then the next track starts. This was a song that on my first listen I was started to realize just how dense this album is. Like, there’s three more, and it’s a 50 minute trek through the record … and it’s not that I would say it’s exhausting, but by this point you’re definitely aware of the journey.

“Everybody I know, makes the same mistakes — packaged up in different boxes, masking shame.”

10:41pm”I don’t wanna walk, away from you … I don’t wanna walk, awayyyyyyyyyyy from you.”

I love this part, but I don’t love the little “Wooooooo” right after.

The Parts

10:43pmThey didn’t do too much to this one to move it away from the stripped down stuff Andy was playing live. It’s still got that feel to it, but it’s been punched up in a few places … it’s got a pretty powerful emotive kick.

10:44pmSimple guitar and haunting Andy echoing in my ears.

“I wanted to know each part, wanna … know … each … part … of you.”

10:45pmGod damn the bastard can sing. Haha.

“Your tan skin felt like universal envy” really is a damn good line.

10:47pmThe vocals echo around like it’s been recorded in a church, you know where it has a little reverb and you can hear the room? It’s very atmosphere setting as I sit here in the dark, beer in hand, headphones pressed to my temple.

The little vocal waver here with about 45 seconds left is a really great touch.

10:49pmWhen a man and his guitar can take you places, god damn. Touching, pretty vintage emotional Man Orch right there.

Andy Hull ladies and gentleman give him a round of applause.

The Silence

10:50pmThe album ends with a 7 minute song. So, you know you’re in for a ride.

10:51pmDrums. And basically immediately epic. Haha. Another song I think “cinematic” works to describe … this opening part would easily score a worn and weary gunslinger walking up to a final showdown.

“I denied that I found you, tried to be a basket case, I did not surprise you, trying to find a signal fire, let me know when I should move …”

10:53pmI love the little subtle shift here in the song. It’s been building to this moment. It earns it. It grows into the final few minutes and the payoff is exactly what you want it to be. Building, and the music over takes the vocals as Andy is talking/singing and you can barely hear him over the music as it crashes and spins ….

10:54pmSoft fade.

Keys take over the melody.

Hushed vocals, haunted vocals, distorted vocals … and the keys, softly … softly … fade.

And we’re out.


11:07pmThat album is an experience. There’s some albums you hear, and they are the ones you listen to, love, enjoy, and they play basically around you. Then there are the albums that you hear and they embody you. Where you can’t really pull yourself away from the music because it feels tattooed into your skin, slowly ebbing its way through your veins, and it takes you over.

The songs end and you’re in a cold sweat. Drowsy and dazed.

That’s what this album feels like to me. It’s an embody album. It consumes you during your listen, demands your attention, depends upon your consent, and fills the pores with sound.

It’s the kind of album you don’t get often, but when it happens, no one can tell you anything different about the album beside that you love it, and you know you’ll always love it, because it’s found a way into you. And I think that’s where this one sits for me. It’s probably going to be polarizing … it’s different, unique, a little weird, but meshes the band’s past with a cinematic flair, a mewithoutYou flamboyance, and an unassailable need to be experienced whole. It’s probably not going to be for everybody. It’s not as instantly accessible as a METN, but I think it’s going to fight toward the top of the band’s catalog when it’s all said and done. I think it’s that good, it has that potential, and that I’m only touching the tip of what there is to discover about this one.

So, with that, I’m out for the night! I’ll be adding more thoughts to this thread as time goes on and I listen more … please feel free to ask questions or anything I can expand upon in the future. I will check in over the weekend but I’ll be hanging out with Hannah for a good part of it and won’t really be around/around until Monday. (Need to celebrate/decompress this week and finally getting Chorus 2.0 out there!)

Hope the fans enjoyed. Hope the casual fans are intrigued. Hope you relish reading as much as I did listening.

Have a great weekend all!