Artist: Manchester Orchestra
Label: Favorite Gentlemen/Canvasback
Due Out: April 21st
Every once in a while, a band comes out with a sophomore effort that is not, in essence, dwarfed by its first album. This situation will usually lead to a faction of band "purists" insisting that the old stuff was better and becoming the hipsters that every new fan of the band hates. However, with Manchester Orchestra's second official full-length, Mean Everything to Nothing, this is not the case. Truly a rock and roll album, MEtN allows the band's sound to evolve to a level even its most diehard fans will be pleasantly surprised by. Yes, there's still angst, but those feelings are made to simply enhance the musical aspects here, rather than become to focus, along with questioning God and life. Each time I hit play on this record, I'm still equally as shocked as the first, and incredibly glad to be listening to something as moving and interesting as I am. Without getting out of the first paragraph here, I'll commend them for a job well done.
Within five seconds of the onset of "The Only One," you're hit with nostalgia, but not for the band's old work. The fast-paced and hard-hitting pop track immediately alludes to Neutral Milk Hotel and the rest of the Elephant 6 Collective. The record label's psychadelic fuzzy pop gained quite a following at the end of the 90s and the early part of this decade, and if you look hard enough, you can still see its influence on today's music. Some may be fooled by this clever ploy at the beginning of the album- assuming a complete change in sound for the group, but the next track, "Shake It Out," is what the band has always excelled at. Quick and soaring hard rock, coupled with lead singer Andy Hull's angst and pain-ridden voice makes the song one of the record's best, as it explores new dimensions of the band, from a young garage band to a more mature, arena indie rock artist. Next, "I've Got Friends" epitomizes what the album is about, a certain growth and potential, whether reached or unreached, but still strived for. This is not reflective of the band, but rather a life, perhaps- not necessarily Hull's. Still, what grabs you on this track, as well as every other, is the amount of organized and overwhelming noise contained within. It's an all-consuming aesthetic that really enhances the listening experience.
"Pride" also hits with force, and coupled with the first three tracks, you're already hooked. What differentiates these tracks from the band's past work seems to lay in the fact that they used to simply couple softer pop instrumental parts with harsh vocals, but now, have seemingly allowed the instrumental pieces to catch up with the heavier vocals. Even the pop tracks have an edge rarely seen on those types of songs. Following that, "In My Teeth" starts in slow, before exploding into a spacious and vast wall of sound, further enhanced by the vocal layering of Hull's voice. Once you've fully recovered from those songs, you'll probably welcome the break that comes with "100 Dollars," a stripped down song about Hull losing a $100 bill that his father gave him. It's simple, yet thought provoking, and is well-placed in the canvas of the record as a whole.
For anyone that owns the band's most recent EP, Let My Pride Be What's Left Behind, you'll surely recognize the next track, "I Can Feel A Hot One". Along with "I Was A Lid," the two songs were the standouts off of the EP, and I'm glad that at least one of them made it on. Both remind me a lot of their old sound- very damaged and subdued, with its moments of heavier sonic influx. From here onward, you'll notice a move back towards that sound, but only in bits and pieces. The next track, "My Friend Marcus," seems like a full band version of a piano ballad, and in my opinion, is. The song is also one of the tracks where the name of the album comes from. Then, for all you cereal enthusiasts, "Tony the Tiger" follows. I'm pretty sure this is about some guy Tony who cheated on Hull's sister, but maybe I'm wrong on that perception. Afterwards, "Everything to Nothing" seemingly wraps up the sentiments expressed throughout the album, speaking of insecurities and dependency, but is not the end of the album. "The River," with hidden, enclosed track, "Jimmy Whispers," both seem to readdress the faith issue, as touched upon in I'm Like a Virgin Losing A Child, but barely hit on here. Stick around for the full 11 and a half minutes to hear "Jimmy Whispers". I feel like both tracks complement each other pretty well, and provide some appropriate closure, as well as a cliffhanger for the next album.
When you reach the end of MEtN, you are questioning a few things, but in the best way possible. The God issue becoming prominent again doesn't confuse, but rather keeps the motor running, even after the music's over. It's one of those records you're sad to see end, but are content with what you've got at the same time. From everything I've heard with this one, it seems as if Hull and Brand New's Jesse Lacey spent a lot of time together during the writing and recording process, as I detect pieces of Lacey's songwriting mentality within this record. Borrowing from a friend is a good thing, however, and the commonalities going forward between Manchester Orchestra, Kevin Devine and Brand New will only make the three artists more enjoyable to listen to. I was impressed to say the least by this album, and I'm sure you will be too. For some similarities, the best place to go is obviously Manchester Orchestra's past work, but other comparisons include the aforementioned Brand New, Nirvana (to a point) and Northstar.
Best Track: "I've Got Friends"