Originally published in The Fordham Ram on September 22, 2016.
First things first: Manchester Orchestra is not an orchestra, and is not from Manchester, England. They are best described as an indie rock band from Atlanta, Georgia that is actually devoid of any string, brass or woodwind instruments (at least in their physical form).
I first heard Manchester Orchestra when their song “April Fool” was featured on the video game “NHL 12.” The game is, understandably enough, full of rock songs with heavy guitar and kicking drums, and “April Fool” is no different. At this point, I was a freshman in high school and feeling particularly rebellious, so loud music just spoke to me, regardless of content. While I am certainly a fan of the more rollicking portion of their catalogue, it was only after going back to their first album that I realized how talented front man Andy Hull and the rest of the band are. This is when I really fell in love with them.
Their debut album, I’m like a Virgin Losing a Child, was released in 2006, and will rip your heart out and step on it. While some portions have a heavier sound, a large portion of the album is centered on Hull’s mournful voice and lyrics. “Sleeper 1972,” a song about the reaction of a family to the death of their father, is one of the saddest songs I have ever heard. “Colly Strings,” the closing song on the album, showcases one of his greatest strengths as a songwriter: incredibly memorable quotes. One of the most poignant quotes is: “Confessingly this is the first time I’ve loved you/And God I mean it, God I mean it, I hope that I mean it.”
Mean Everything to Nothing, their sophomore effort, features their first forays into the more heavy rock that would get them featured on “NHL 12” and then on my playlists ever since. “Shake It Out” was my go-to pump up song for my illustrious high school baseball career (I had one career hit and an 84 ERA), so it’ll always have a special place in my heart. Despite his loud fun songs like “Shake It Out” and “In My Teeth,” Hull still has introspective songs, particularly “I Can Feel a Hot One.” In the ballad, Hull describes a dream he had of his wife dying in a car crash and praying to God to survive, but God saving the couple’s unborn child instead. Yes, it’s a very happy song. Why do you ask?
Simple Math, their third album, is the album I go back to the least. That’s not to say it does not have its high points. “Apprehension,” which describes a couple going through a miscarriage — if you feel like sobbing, you should listen to it. The aforementioned “April Fool” is there to listen to if you want to yell about Christian ideals. And on “Pensacola,” you can hear my high school yearbook quote: “I am the greatest man that never lived and now I never sleep.”
Cope and Hope, Manchester Orchestra’s most recent project resulted in one of the most interesting things I’ve seen a band do. Cope was released in 2014, but unlike the rest of their albums, did not feature any real stripped-down songs. The songs contained all heavy guitar and a fair amount of borderline shouting. While I certainly liked the album, I found myself missing the band’s softer side.
When the band surprise-released Hope just a few months later, I was in heaven. Hope had the same exact track listing as Cope, but every song was now in the stripped-down version I had missed. This change allowed for a stronger emphasis on some of Hull’s best songwriting to date, and actually improved the enjoyment of Cope by comparison. Songs like “Top Notch” were pure fun to sing-yell poorly in the car in their Cope incarnations, but then the Hope versions point the incredibly sad stories inside the lyrics. It also features one of my favorite Hull lines, “We all believed in ghosts until we walked into the wall.” The true standout comes from the Hope version of “See It Again” which is built purely on layer upon layer of Hull’s vocals for an ephemeral experience and will take you to places you’ve never been.
Manchester Orchestra’s 11 year career is one of the most satisfying that I have listened to. I cannot imagine that a lot of the music I listened to in high school will stick with me the rest of my life (I’m looking at you, Flobots), but the incredible skill and versatility of Manchester Orchestra will keep them with me for the foreseeable future.