”I remember seeing the Blood Brothers play at the Masquerade and it scaring me to my core. I’d never heard of them. I just went with a friend, and then shortly after that I realized that I want that power. I wanted that power just to shock people with sound.” – Andy Hull
The first time I ever met Andy Hull, we connected a bit on a love for The Blood Brothers. Not a band you would expect the frontman and lyricist of Manchester Orchestra to have a heart for, but in reality, Hull has quite a musical archive of influence, even telling me how he likes turning fans onto new bands or ones they may never have heard of. Aside from his admiration as a music fan, the above pulled quote also speaks volumes in a quest to be not only challenged, but have the audacity to simply “put up or shut up.” With 2009’s Mean Everything to Nothing, the band saw a sophomore incline of sorts: two radio singles and a well-received album that personally landed in my lap at one of the biggest changes in my life thus far. On the most personal of levels, the band’s second release was the perfect soundtrack to leaving college and moving away as Deja Entendu was the score when entering it.
During the first run through of Simple Math, it is a shocking absorption to many a Manchester Orchestra fan. There’s no instant gratification in the band’s new piece of work. Instead, the band layer one of the best albums of 2011 with so many different influences (Built to Spill, Pavement, Weezer, The Snake the Cross the Crown, and much more) that there’s no pinpointing a “sound” to Simple Math. It’s an album that’s overwhelming to the listener and outdoing for the band. To go from the gradual epic build of “Pale Black Eye,” to the sludgy and heaviest venture to date (“Virgin”) and into the beautiful bloom of the title track is a powerful thing and the prime cut of the record. Even more powerful is how honest Hull continues to be. The opening “Deer” is an apologetic letter to his friends and family (Dear everyone that I ever really knew/ I acted like an asshole so I could keep my edge on you) and even to his fans (Dear everybody that has ever seen my band/it’s still confusing, we’ll never understand/I acted like an asshole so my albums would never burn). It’s a tragic opener that bleeds of a broken character lost in confusion and exhaustion.
”Pensacola” will be a number many will talk about. Through all the self-deprecation and dark underbelly of most of the record’s serious subject matter, “Pensacola” shows a brighter side to the band’s technique that includes hand claps, horns and one of the best vocal choruses on a track in some time. At the heart of it, the song showcases a band that’s not afraid to take a stab at any direction or influence. They are at their brightest when it’s melodic, and at their darkest in the drudging dissonant points of the album. Manchester Orchestra not only shock their audience with the flow of Simple Math, they will leave fans coming back in awe of the band’s expansion from the straightforward approach of their previous two albums and into the symphonic style of execution this time around.
Where Chris Freeman added texture to Mean Everything to Nothing, he really vamps it up this time around as he performs in bolder strokes upon the overall mural on “Virgin” and “Leave it Alone.” Robert McDowell and Hull play off each other in a bluesy foreplay on the heavier sanctions of “Mighty” and “April Fool,” but in the closing “Leaky Breaks.” the song takes the two in more of a Wilco territory with a somber, yet peaceful mood slowly carrying out the album. Rhythmically, Tim Very and Jonathan Corley are well on time with each other, even with the departure of Jeremiah Edmond’s talents. Hull continues to open himself up, and the deeper he digs, the darker it becomes. As his lyrics are probably their most vulnerable this time around, the band shines bright against them.
Many of us, including myself, were taken back for a second upon the first full listen of “Simple Math” when it was released. That song is only a piece of a fruitful picture that is the success of Manchester Orchestra pushing themselves as musicians through the flow and timbre of Simple Math. In a year that’s produced an overwhelming amount of great music, Simple Math is another outstanding painting worth the public’s attention. When Hull sings “Believe me, all is brilliant,” it really is once again for this band.