Tuesday, November 3, 2009

review: Manchester Orchestra--Mean Everything to Nothing

Manchester Orchestra
Mean Everything to Nothing
Favorite Gentlemen, 2009

Manchester Orchestra: "I've Got Friends"

I know, I know this one has been out for a little while, but I just picked it up. I'd heard a few of the songs and became intrigued. This, for all intents and purposes, is/was a big album for Manchester Orchestra. Their time to make a statement about the hype, about their style, about WHAT IS TO COME. Almost indie to the max in starting their own record label (Favorite Gentleman), they've somehow found fair mainstream success (notice their list of shows punctuated with radio call numbers coming up) all on their own terms. That's not necessarily "indie" in sound, but indie all the way in style.

Hyped big time by Paste Mag, Atlanta's Manchester Orchestra sometimes missed the mark with their early ventures. Lead singer Andy Hull was ahead of the rest of his bandmates, both in talent, maturity and commitment. Hull's strength has always been his lyrics and finally with
Mean Everything to Nothing the band matches Hull's vocal intensity. I liked the previous EP, but this destroys it--in its complexity, its subject matter and its heady, hook pop.

Manchester Orchestra is slow-mo Southern punk. This is Pearl Jam with a twinge of the South, CCR with an amped-up attitude and a gothic, almost debilitating fixation on man's relationship with God, rattling between dependence and denial.

The album's opener "The Only One" is built on an opening whine, a melody of little deflection, with Hull's contrasting lyrics on religion and sexuality nestled into a thick fold of clean distortion. "Shake It Out" actually starts out very similarly, except with the energy at another rung up the ladder. The lyrics, (this kid can write) center on individual spiritual realization: "Are you the living ghost of what I need? /are you giving me the best of me./ we, will see."

Try this one on for size: "I am the living ghost of what you need/ I am everything eternally, god just speak." Of course, the genius of this song is its climax at the 3:30 mark or so (it could have ended here) before it delves (or moves, transforms, glides) into some balladeering that is not cheesy, but surprisingly effective. Why, oh why does the song break? The intensity, the speed, all is fine and dandy, but it's like we would forget the point of music if the break wasn't there: music is meaning.

By the third track on the album, I'm not sure how I can keep up with this onslaught of goodness, but Hull and co., keep bringing it in much the same way. "I've Got Friends" seems a bit grander, the guitar parts deeper, the structure a little tighter. But Hull never lets off the pedal, the border of screams vs. non-screams vs. singing is a fine one and the timing is delicate.

The fourth track "Pride" is no slouch, though its quiet trickle into the blistering now-familiar Southern grunge sound isn't as surprising here. In fact, the first half of the album is some of the best modern rock being developed, the second half falls off, though "Everything To Nothing" feels more like the previous band's EP, thrown together quick with a intro shading what is already known. "The River" is Bright Eyes long-view pop with more confidence and no waver in his tender voice.

Essentially, though quibbling with the last half of the album is like expecting every player on a baseball team to hit .400, when only having three hit .500 is almost just as fine. Because the other songs are good, outstanding even, just perhaps not achieving the level of excellence as the first three songs. To bring it back on course: Manchester Orchestra delivers and delivers fast and hard with sweetness, like the UPS man charging into your mailbox, but delivering everyone on the block a box of gold bullion. Sure, it's an inconvenience that the mailbox is knocked down, but no one cares. This is gold.

1 comment:

  1. This album has grown on me over the year. I like it more every time I listen to it after thinking it was only mediocre after the first listen.


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