Liner Notes (May 8th, 2021)

Beach

I hope everyone had a good week this week. Today I sit on the couch and write up some thoughts on the music, movies, and TV shows I spent some time with over the past week. As always, there’s a playlist of ten songs I liked, and this week’s supporter Q&A post can be found here.

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Review: Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God

Manchester Orchestra - The Million Masks of God

If you had only heard the initial two singles from The Million Masks of God – “Bed Head” and “Keel Timing,” the sixth album from Manchester Orchestra, you could argue that the Atlanta group has learned how to groove. I’m not talking about groove-metal, Pantera style, although their take on “Walk” would be sick. They have always had that heavy edge, after all. Their songs have always been catchy; look at the youthful energy of “Wolves at Night,” the brilliant key change on “I’ve Got Friends,” the blues-inspired “April Fool,” or the undeniable “Choose You.” The list could go on and on. On their fifth album, A Black Mile to the Surface, the band combined their talent for unforgettable melody with ambitious, sprawling storytelling. In that sense alone, The Million Masks of God is the natural successor, a sister album to their 2017 instant classic.   

The Million Masks of God is co-produced by vocalist Andy Hull and lead guitarist Robert McDowell, alongside Black Mile producer Catherine Marks (The Killers, Alanis Morissette) and newcomer Ethan Gruska (Phoebe Bridgers, Fiona Apple). With these two powerhouses on board, Manchester Orchestra turns the concept album dial up to 11. While the theme was abstract at the beginning of writing, it became far more straightforward following the loss of McDowell’s father to cancer. “If Black Mile was this idea of ‘from birth to death,’ this album would really be more about ‘from birth to beyond, focusing on the highs and lows of life and exploring what could possibly come next,’” Hull explained. The question here is, how well do they tell the story? Does the music itself match the quality of the concept? To me, it’s complicated.

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TikTok Is Helping Make Pop-Punk a Thing Again

Tik Tok

Aliya Chaudhry, writing at Consequence:

But there’s another major factor bringing pop-punk back, and it’s causing a lot of change in the music industry. TikTok has been revitalizing hits from the 2000s and 2010s – many of them scene staples like 3OH!3’s “DONTTRUSTME”, Paramore’s “All I Wanted”, and All Time Low’s “Dear Maria, Count Me In”. It’s also bolstered newer songs, like “I Miss Having Sex but at Least I Don’t Want to Die Anymore” by pop-punk-adjacent band Waterparks, who didn’t even release the track as a single (and have subsequently signed to hip-hop label 300 Entertainment). YUNGBLUD, whose work combines elements of pop and punk with other genres, frequently collaborates with Machine Gun Kelly and Travis Barker, and his song “parents” went viral on TikTok earlier this year.

Next level: When TikTok can get all those pop-punk bands that should have been huge back in the day a viral hit. Come on, let’s see some Lucky Boys Confusion dance move videos.

Interview: Tanner Merritt

Tanner Merritt

A lot has changed since I caught up with O’Brother last year. For one, touring again is a possibility for the band – over 105 million Americans have been fully vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, which brings the country closer to post-pandemic normal. For vocalist Tanner Merritt, he has written a ton of new solo material due to monumental personal loss. Last year, O’Brother was riding high: They had released their long-awaited fourth album, You and I, to unanimous praise and incredible sales for a newly independent band. 

The album relished space and classical guitars while intentionally leaving vague lyrics to listeners’ imaginations. As beautiful as You and I is, there was a dark undercurrent beneath the track “What We’ve Lost.” A kind of follow-up to Endless Light’s “Black Hole,” Merritt needed an outlet to write about his father, Cyrus’s decade-long fight with Alzheimer’s disease. Then COVID hit, and Merritt spent most of the year in total isolation alongside his mother, watching his father’s condition worsen until he passed away on November 4, 2020, two days after his 63rd birthday. 

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