ARTIST: Manchester Orchestra
I loved Simple Math. Manchester Orchestra successfully drew from a variety of directions and influences, resulting in a brilliantly concise range of palates. It may have painted them into a bit of a corner, with naysayers slighting the ballads or melodrama, but it was a even sided decagon - with ten precise and poignant tales. From the choir of children eerily sweeping through the grungy sermon of "Virgin," or the menacing story that Hull depicts in the most upbeat fashion on "Pensacola," Simple Math was progression on all fronts. But with fans conflicted between the Hulls of past and present, the rock-infused teen angst of Mean Everything to Nothing or the indie roots of I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, maybe Cope was to be expected. A reactionary record, like being struck with a reflex hammer. Because when Hull feels it's necessary to recognize that their previous album had "a different color [with each song]," only to state that this release is more "black and red the whole time...just brutal and pounding you over the head," there are probably grounds to be worried about the new direction.
Thankfully, Manchester Orchestra are still the driven band they've always been, and, while not entirely delivering on the promise to "make the kind of album that's missing at this time in rock," the conviction is still present in measured amounts throughout. In place of the unrelenting angst and ballads of the past, is something a bit more straightforward (if not mature), and easier to consume. A tale of trails and coping, marriage and divorce, are strewn over the album’s more “pure” rock influence. Playful melodies on tracks like "The Ocean," and "Indentions" carry the tempo when Hull delivers surprisingly by-the-books performances, but, contrastingly, it highlights the band's newfound confidence in their instinct - letting one or more aspects take a backseat to the others in a balanced fashion. But, if anything, this album is a bit too assured in its direction, with all the twists and turns laid bare in front of the listener.
Regardless, the energy and deliberate nature of the record is hard to ignore. Hull may not be in top form on every track, but he pulls off a variety of subtle, yet impressive, feats throughout. From the heavy nostalgia embedded in the hook for "The Mansion," to the swagger of the overtly anthemic closer, "Cope," or the fantastic bridge on "See It Again" ("didn't mean to talk about love"), Hull and co. definitely succeeded in creating an enjoyable sprint through a typical rock affair, with their own distinct imprint. Only Manchester Orchestra could successfully pull off the groovy riffs that clash with Hull's whine on "Top Notch," or the nasally melodies that outline "Girl Harbor," or the shrieks that pierce through "Trees." But if only that was enough.
"This change in direction is, at its best, an ill-advised triumph, but, at its worst, is a devolution of the bands’ growth throughout the past few albums. The growth found on Cope is shallow and superficial, and Hull risks drowning in the complacency of his tales about “ghosts,” and “boats,” instead of tackling the nature of change and coping in a more deliberate manner. Throughout Cope, Manchester Orchestra try to maintain a vivid connection to traditional rock, while Hull grazes the concept of learning to just be "okay” by scouring the same box of cryptic angst-ridden lyrics as always. However, it's a composition truly suited for Hull's weary soul, and it's why he succeeds in execution more often than not.
“It’s like everything I ever have imagined is coming true today”