Back to basics for Manchester Orchestra
If you’ve been waiting for a back to basics rock and roll album to shake the cobwebs from between your ears, then look no further than this barnstorming 4th album from the grizzled rocker
Manchester Orchestra - Cope (31st March via Caroline International)As a band who have always seemed like their own Island amidst a sea of landfill Indie mediocrity, Manchester Orchestra (they are neither from Manchester, nor are they an Orchestra) have always done things their own way and it's paid off time and tie again. The band's sophomore album 'Mean Everything to Nothing' was hailed as a masterpiece and they followed it up with a complex but maddeningly addictive concept album in 2011 with the wonderful ‘Simple Math’. It would have been perhaps easier for the five piece to rest on their laurels and go even further down the rabbit hole for album number 4, but instead they have opted for a ‘back to basics’ approach. A proper, old fashioned, balls-to-the-wall rock and roll record, ‘Cope’ marks a hayrick of stunning albums for the band and even though there is a lot of distortion and grit here, this is also an album of intricate beauty and well-crafted songs, that reveal a depth of emotion far belying their youth. The Atlanta natives follow in the footsteps of indie-rock mavericks such as Modest Mouse and Pavement in subverting expectations as songs which start life as simple, delicate things fold elegantly into epic behemoths, and songs that begin as thundering monsters, settle into beautiful subtlety. Musically the 11 tracks here bring to mind a combination between a more angry Biffy Clyro and a less cynical Modest Mouse, but there's a conviction and immediacy here that's all their own. The closing title track is the closest the band have come to finding a middle ground between their heavier roots and the emotional immediacy so celebrated on 'METN’, and although it's bombastic heft might alienate fans of the group’s lo-fi roots, it's hard not to be swept away by it. They start as they mean to go on with lead single ‘Top Notch’. Numerous fuzzy guitar hooks buzz about in an infectious dirge, complimenting each other wonderfully as frontman Andy Hull’s sweet-natured vocals cut through with some delightfully obtuse lyrics about “Twin deaf kids” and “Forsaken places”. ‘Choose You’ and ‘Girl Harbour’ follow through with the opening tracks potential, pulling similar tricks, but doing so with more of a dynamic flair. ‘Girl Harbour’ especially pares a relatively gentle verse to a chorus that sounds like early Band of Horses being mounted violently by Brand New. ’The Mansion’ is the only relatively dull note (like a decent Oasis song given a heavier makeover) in a first side that is capped by the triumphant, anthemic ‘The Ocean’, and ‘Every Stone’, which might just be my new favourite Manchester Orchestra. The tail end of the record kicks off with aplomb with ‘All I Really Wanted’, another loud/quiet/loud pop song, but an incredibly effective one. Honestly the same could be said of almost every song here though, save for the moody, choir backed ‘See It Again’, which is the only songs here to peaks above the 4 minute mark. There’s a real consistence at work with ‘Cope’ that might lack the dynamism of both ‘Simple Math’ and ‘METN’, but makes up for this relative lack of eclecticism with some of the strongest melodies, ideas and arrangements of the band’s career. On first play-through this album blew my socks off and that's not a phrase I use lightly, maybe it's just the comparably dull music that has been inflicted on these ears lately, or maybe my mask of indifference is slipping. At any rate, ‘Cope’ comes highly recommended!