REVIEW: Manchester Orchestra – Simple Math (9.5/10)

As many of you are aware I’m always on the hunt for new music to expand my aural palette and was pointed to this band by a review of their latest album from RockSound who compared them to “Brand New and The National, being happy [and] being sad”. Slightly disconcerted upon first listen to find this doesn’t give justice to this band at all (specifically the references to The National), but actually combine a wider of variety of influences to really drive home this album’s ambition and intricate complexity. Influences such as the vocal styles of Death Cab for Cutie and Modest Mouse, the orchestral arrangement of Biffy Clyro, and other great bands like Pavement and Weezer layer what, is arguably for me, an album that will no doubt feature on the best of 2011 lists toward the end of the year.
“Deer” kicks off the proceedings with a poignant and melancholic feel and I’m instantly reminded of Isaac Brock’s vocals from Modest Mouse. “Mighty” is another stand-out track if not only for the fact that of the sheer scale and orchestral arrangements that are reminiscent of Biffy Clyro on their later albums. These comparisons aren’t lazy or sloppy carbon-copies oh no. They take their influences and build them layer by delicate layer, developing their sound in their own right but one that pays homage to the greats.
“Pensacola”, lyrically, is the most visceral and exhausting track I have ever heard. It hears like a letter to Andy Hull’s (rhythm guitarist/vocalist) therapist; “I hope eventually you’ll se what you’ve been turning me into” “I’m the greatest that man that never lived” “I’m tired of talking to a wall, if I could talk to someone else” “My daughter she barely eats, she barely sleeps, she barely speaks” “I never knew what I could become” are all lyrics that again punch home his pain in a wry fashion. And it seems with every verse he quickly utters and gets off his chest; that he gets over it. Either that or he is just everyone else, with issues just that little more honest and to the bone.
It’s at times like this we notice the contrasts in the album. It’s at the most upbeat when we notice after a few more listens how full of melancholy the songs actually are. At its most melodic the songs are actually full of hope.
The songs that stay with you are the songs where Hull really lays himself bare and to the ground; songs like “April Fool” – typically crushing as you’d expect. “Pale Black Eye” feels like a delicate whisper, idealistic and yet with such thundering grooves to not ever let you doze off from the album’s throughline. One gripe is that the grooves can be overdriven and distract you from the song itself but that’s minor and you can forgive it when you reach the middle eight and you feel Hull brought to his knees. Viscerality if you will.
Speaking of which “Virgin” feels like a goodbye to someone. And an angry one. The rhythm section and children gang like vocals hear like a marching band.
My only gripe with this record is that sometimes the extended soloing can fruitlessly meander on “Leaky Breaks”, the guitar reverbs really show off the beauty of this album and it would have been a far more poignant song without the soloing around the halfway point. Having listened to their previous work this seemed to be a recurring problem, however they have cut down on this a lot this time around but it really interrupts the flow of the record especially when I have enjoyed absorbing myself into the rest of the tracks.

In conclusion, ‘Simple Math’ makes for a complex and rewarding listen. Manchester Orchestra have done themselves proud by paying attention to every detail in the making of this album. From the guitar reverbs, to the production, to the vocal arrangements, grooves and melodies. I would strongly advise listening to the labum with good cans or good quality speakers and that way you’ll get the most from this epic album and band who are slowly but surely soaring above their counterparts and peers.

Released: May 10th (via Columbia)
Favourites: Simple Math, Deer, Virgin, Penascola

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