Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile To The Surface

by Nathan Fidler Rating:6 Release Date:2017-07-28

Forming in the mid-noughties, Manchester Orchestra seemed like they might fill that void so carelessly created by Brand New’s departure from the scene. While their first two albums lived up to that tag, this decade they’ve been expanding beyond themselves.

Turnover in band members has no doubt contributed to the slight changes in the soundscapes, with A Black Mile To The Surface the most noticeable change is the width in the sound. Perhaps the experience of creating the soundtrack for the 2016 film ‘Swiss Army Man’ played a part in this, but it’s obvious from single ‘The Alien’ that they’ve gone panoramic.

The fact that singer Andy Hull became a father since the last album is written across the tone of the album. This is no clearer than on album opener ‘The Maze’, coming to terms with the emotion in a hymnal-reverb kind of way. That doesn’t mean that some of their more tense emotions of confusion and apathy are totally gone - ‘The Gold’ claiming “I don’t really love you anymore” - but the majority of songs have a lighter feeling than usual.

Where ‘Mean Everything To Nothing’ had a sinister bite and ‘Simple Math’ had a higher plane of intelligence, this album feels less urgent. Tracks like ‘The Sunshine’ and ‘The Grocery’ aren’t exactly happy-go-lucky, but for a band so often pegged as being at the forefront of alternative, post-rock emo, it’s all fairly tame.

There are arrangements which spread neatly, orchestral and synthetic, while the drums are pushed into the background, giving you the feeling that there should be credits rolling. Despite the breadth of sound, it’s a quieter affair, making for a sleepy feeling by the time ‘The Silence’ rolls around, leaving you plodding around in the wash of thoughts.

Is it cruel to want singers to bare their souls? Their innermost, darkest thoughts? It’s the kind of thing which can push a band further, but it’s also probably not right to expect a new father to dwell on those types of things. The type of musician Andy Hull is, if he isn’t unburdening himself then the music feels like it lacks a purpose. Joy and a sense of weightless freedom aren’t his modus operandi and it shows.

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