Before recording anything for Manchester Orchestra’s fifth album, Andy Hull aimed to deconstruct what the band was. “My challenge was whatever you’re instinctively going to want to play on the record, try and not do that,” Hull explained to UPROXX earlier this summer, “try and do the opposite of that thing.” Obviously, there isn’t anything like a simple “how-to” guide on achieving such a goal, so the band worked with multiple producers at various studios to create a record that could cement their legacy as one of this era’s great rock bands. And after a year full of obsessive detail, second guessing, and a grueling recording process, Manchester Orchestra emerged with A Black Mile To The Surface, their most majestic and challenging record yet.
I think so much of that comes from like giving up control for the greater good and letting go of your ego and your pride. When I was younger, it wasn’t that I knew what I was doing [laughs] or knew that I was being a certain way – it was just all I knew. As the years go on, you start to realise how un-smart you are and how much you need to surround yourself with the best people. Once I started to realise Cope was a big part of that, being in a room, working on these songs and realising other ideas were super valuable.
Never one to wait for experiences that most people put off until well into adulthood, Hull now felt that life was moving too fast even for him.
“All of a sudden the Foo Fighters were offering us shows that we had to turn down,” Hull says. “It seemed very strange. Very strange.”
This unity was crucial during the sometimes fraught process of recording of A Black Mile To The Surface. Hull and McDowell were obsessive about capturing the precise sounds they needed, no matter the expense or time involved. After sessions with Marks in Asheville and the band’s home studio, Manchester Orchestra went to LA and consulted with Congleton, who suggested some seemingly minor tweaks that the band nonetheless feels completed the record. For instance, Congleton added a sequencer to the end of “A Maze” that prompted Hull to overdub a chain-gang-style vocal to the show’s climax, giving the track a new sense of uplift. They also solicited some changes from Wilson via email, which Hull believes helped to further flesh out the record’s sonic tapestry.
For what it’s worth, I think they nailed this sound. A few people got to hear the album yesterday at a listening event and have posted some of their thoughts in the forum as well. They seem to agree.
It’s easy to pop over for impromptu projects, like recording a cover of the Avett Brothers’ “No Hard Feelings” just for the fun of it. Recording unlikely covers has become a kind of hobby for the band — they’ve done everything from Neil Young’s “Walk On” to No Doubt’s “Don’t Speak” to a full-length version of Michael Jackson’s Thriller that the band doesn’t play for me but promises is epic.
Holy shit I want all of these.
This first impression was originally posted as a live blog for supporters in our forums on June 9th, 2017. 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.