Manchester Orchestra - Cope

The angst of Manchester Orchestra matures - sort of.

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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”

1. Top Notch
This single chugs along with a confidence that was missing from parts of "Simple Math," and comfortably straddles the line between grungy-angst and their more pop-rock sensibilities. Sporting a repetitive but incessantly groovy rhythm, the instrumentation allows Hull to continuing being as straightforwardly cryptic as possible (if that's a thing): "we all believed in ghosts until you ran into the wall."8.0
2. Choose You
"The invention of the ship was the invention of the shipwreck," mutters Hull, "I tried to find out who I was by jumping off the deck." The strumming guitar and steady rhythm allow him to brood on, virtually uninterrupted. In one fell swoop of martyrdom, Hull croons that "he told, 'chose you,'" sacrificing his own satisfaction. However, there's a lack of grit and, rather, a surge of whimsy throughout the song - even when he states "I am not the man you knew, I am not the man you choose."7.5
3. Girl Harbor
The oddly titled track continues the trend of this more upbeat Manchester Orchestra, even as Hull's singing ranges from placid storytelling to impassioned shrieks. "You waste so much time," he drones on, self-berating and cynical in the midst of divorce. "Now your last name is mine and I feel no different," is the somber takeaway, even as the track becomes more aggressive and vindictive ("I know your faults and how you write them off"). But, in the end, Hull's already told us: "I don't mean what I say, but say what I mean to."8.0
4. The Mansion
The first change of pace on the record also finds Manchester Orchestra in their sweet spot, complete with Hull's signature whine and the band's swinging groove pulling heartstrings. "He cant remember my name," cries Hull, with enough conviction to turn the record on its head and send it in a much more interesting direction. But despite the rest of the album being more of the same, the pounding, dramatic, finish of this track is a worthy consolation prize.9.0
5. The Ocean
A mix of continued "ocean," and "boat" references, along with the first f-bomb of the record ("tricked by my fucking training") make for an exceedingly brazen track. One that builds on the natural tempo of the album, as well as provides lulls for Hull to "give into the ocean," rejecting everything. The brief “ohs” harken back to a more familiar sound, while the playful rhythm and disjointed structure help keep the song engaging.7.5
6. Every Stone
Misleadingly dubbed as the "Simple Math" of this record, "Every Stone" is more a staple of the new direction this band has chosen rather than a callback to the efficient simplicity of their last album. Now, the soundscape is filled with a more relentless tempo but less assured songwriting. Where this song lacks in sincerity, it makes up for in an epic build up that explodes into a heavy but uplifting outro - retroactively turning the entire track into a build up of sorts.8.5
7. All I Really Wanted
"Let me make up my mind, so I can change it," Hull declares, claiming that all he "really wanted, was to leave it to [her].” The abrupt and explosive introduction to the track fades away to his sorrowful storytelling about broken marriages and gripping vices ("you've been drinkin' all night, we both know when you're drunk the future rewinds - it happens every fucking time, but you erase it"), but sets up an energetic pace for the rest of the song. The track sporadically explodes into a fervent flourish, only to pull back on the reins for more crooning from Hull - a strategy that’s almost been overworked throughout the album.8.5
8. Trees
The bravado and swagger of Hull is at full throttle on this track as he melodically shrieks and yelps in the background while crooning on that he wants "to believe," that he's "gotta believe," atop the aggressive backdrop. Perfectly suited to the wholehearted rock track is the dark and grinding instrumentation, making this one of the most interesting tracks on the record. Anthemic in its nostalgia and confident in its direction.9.0
9. Indentions
The playful melody allows Hull to continue his by-the-book approach with this album, even when hinting at taking the track somewhere more interesting ("god is all of the time"). "I won't leave indentions of me," promises Hull morosely, knowing that if he does leave, it won't be "intentionally." The song is as inoffensive as the rest, perhaps even more at ease with its complacency than usual, but it fits the album's relentless excursion into anthemic rock.8.0
10. See it Again
This apologetic and remorseful track sees Hull brooding amidst powerful riffs that wash away any previous sense of complacency and mark the start of the two-part finale. Hull wants to protect "the only living thing inside," but knows with certainty that he's "never gonna see her again." As he tiptoes around "love," "money," and "narcissistic medals," he knows that all that's left is to "cope."8.5
11. Cope
An overtly heavy opener gives way to a slow, and thudding march. Hull is poised with his usual whisper, but from the end of the first passage, it's clear that this track is going to be more fun than usual. "It's like everything I have ever imagined is coming true today," he harmonizes, adding just the perfect amount of warble and panache to the last two words. The menacing guitars that follow, serving as the hook and the driving force for the track, only help highlight the forcefulness with which Hull wishes he could let go "the way that we cope." Past and present directions collide for the fleeting, but extravagant, finish.9.0
Narsimha Chintaluri is a creative writer currently satiating his need to write by venting about music, tv and film on any given platform.

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