Manchester Orchestra’s front man and vocalist Andy Hull would appear tobe something of a crazy mixed-up kid. Having been prolific and (hyper)active since his not-so-distant high school days, at one point havingdropped out so that he could better concentrate on his music, the band arenow putting out their second album, a release that seemingly both addressesand mirrors confusions and contradictions in his life.
Emotionally, the mood of the album is turbulent, troubled and changeable.Many tracks speak of inner turmoil, “A bigger mess, that you can’t fix”,Shake It Out puts it, or, in one of several lyrics that seem to capture thedisaffected adolescent’s outlook and way of speaking: “Whatever, whatever, Ican’t speak” (You, My Pride And Me).
Drug use and/or abuse are obliquelyreferred to in several tracks (In My Teeth, I Can Feel A Hot One, EverythingTo Nothing, for example), yet another constant reference is religion – Godand Jesus. Hull is a “son of a pastor”, he tells us in the opening trackThe Only One, and reckons “Jesus don’t come round unless we pray” (InMy Teeth). The impression is of someone simultaneously rejecting yetreaching out for his childhood beliefs, particularly on The River, where heslowly and movingly pleads “Oh my God / Make me clean again”.
It is difficult to avoid making the presumption that most of this isautobiographical. As well as the pastor Father, other characters that weare introduced to include a grandfather who leaves a note in his coat to bediscovered by his grandson (Everything To Nothing) and a brother on the(irritatingly) hidden track at the end, touchingly informed that “We’rebrothers, that makes it right”.
Just as the emotions in the album are something of a mixed bag, so it iswith the musical stylings. The band can switch from sounding fairlystraightforwardly emo, as on Shake It Out and You, My Pride And Me, tosomething more akin to the gentler, electronica-flecked side ofchecked-shirt indie. It is on this latter type of track, specifically TheOnly One, I’ve Got Friends, In My Teeth, and I Can Feel A Hot One, that theyreally come into their own.
When they hit gold in the form of good tunes,added texture and oomph from keyboards and synths, plus the heavypost-hardcore guitar deployment at which they also excel, then they reallydo produce something quite special. Hull’s affecting vocal (he really singslike he cares) adds to the effect, and is best when used more softlyand melodically, although he does run the full gamut from tender croon tovery angry shout, often within one song.
Despite a couple of forgettable tracks near the end (the bland Tony TheTiger, and the overlong Everything To Nothing) then, this is an album thatwears its befuddled, het-up, over-emotional heart on its sleeve, and is allthe better, less slick and more interesting for it. As a depiction oflate-teen / early-20s angst it rings loudly, confusedly, butvaliantly true.