Andy Hull of the Manchester Orchestra has never shied away from an unbearable intimacy in his compositions. While not all of his evocative lyrics are rooted in literal truth: 10 years after first hearing the minimalist but devastating account of pain detailed in 'Sleeper 1972', I'm genuinely surprised to discover that Hull is, in fact, definitely alive. . -the intensity of emotions and images in his words often speak to a larger general truth. In other words: the stories of songs like 'Sleeper 1972' may not be real, but what they tell us about the underlying themes and emotions is unequivocally honest.
When a writer is as talented as Hull is at creating scenes that feel real, regardless of the actual origin of the narrative, it seems futile to try to dissect exactly what came out of his own life and what just came out of his imagination. 🇧🇷 That said, it's certainly impossible to absorb all the intricacies of Manchester Orchestra's fifth album,Ablack mile to the surfacenot taking into account the significant changes to Hull's home life since the previous release,LIDAR -namely, the birth of their daughter Mayzie. Adjusting to his new role as a father is the dominant theme ofBlack Mile…, and although the line between anecdote and fiction remains somewhat blurred, it is very clear that this album is an exercise in catharsis; your way of workingTRUEheavy shit
The album opens innocuously with 'The Maze', a laid-back serenade to his daughter that captures the wonder of new fatherhood, gradually turning into a joyous celebration of their love accompanied by a chorus. Sentimental without being cloying, it could fail to delight only the most insensitive listeners. He also focuses attention directly on her relationship with her daughter from the beginning. But perhaps most significantly, the opening with 'The Maze' is also a bit of a narrative device; the unquestionable, all-encompassing love she sings about actually signals the resolution of the conflicts presented throughout the record. Pushing it front and center takes the mystery out of how the story ends and pushes the audience to focus on what's most important throughout the album: the journey.
The predominant meaning in everythingblack mileis that not everything is going well with Andy Hull. Lead single 'The Gold' tells the story of a broken relationship, family tensions and lingering self-doubt, the latter heavily influencing the former. When Hull Sings"I don't think I love you anymore", the line is muted and unconvincing, as if he were talking to himself to assess the truth instead of addressing the other person with some conviction. In contrast, the chorus assertively dismisses the relationship as"a dream", and begs the other party to"Lose your faith in me."That insecurity is something that reappears throughout the album, a fear of the magnitude of the responsibility that his new role as a father imposes on him and the uncertainty of living up to it. In 'The Moth,' Hull contemplates becoming a totally different person: "Forcing me to have a different name... throwing away the man you used to be.The record also returns frequently to the idea of mortality and what, if anything, comes after: on 'The Grocery,' he laments that he cannot share his father's unwavering faith, declaring that "Now it's obvious, believe it or not."This shaken faith is woven into the record with the recurring thread“there is nothing I have when I die that I will keep”;the line itself is a documentation of the emotional journey that takes place here. At one point it can feel like a reminder to cherish the good times and make the most of the time you have left. In others, it feels like an admission of defeat, of feeling overwhelmed by the futility of life in the face of mortality.
These are great concepts to explore, and while the Manchester Orchestra have tried to create sweeping atmospheres in the past, with some success, this is the album where they use that tool to its fullest potential. Since his last album, Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell have worked on his first soundtrack; a project that challenged him to look beyond conventional "rock band" ways of creating ambience through music and that undeniably played a significant role in the composition ofBlack Mile.With a host of new musical elements in their arsenal - drum machines, samples and an unprecedented number of synths - Manchester Orchestra have honed their already impressive ability to blend sound with mood into a fine art. The fact that the build from the understated tension to the soaring chorus and jarring finale of 'The Wolf' is able to convey so much before it even gets to the lyrics is a testament to their talent and continued growth as artists.
Not content with simply creating an album that is complex and grand enough to sound like the soundtrack to an Oscar-nominated film, Hull continues to draw on cinematic influences by creating a subplot within the album. 'Lead, SD' transports us to a small town in South Dakota, and there three stories remain to be told: 'The Alien', 'The Sunshine' and 'The Grocery'. The distinction between these songs and the main body of the album is subtle but rewarding: a softer sound, a calculated shift from first-person narration, a guitar chorus that connects the three as an independent entity. While not directly related to the main narrative, it focuses on similar ideas—complicated family relationships, confronting mortality, and questioning faith—that create a more complex and nuanced take on the album's main themes.
After spiraling into the center of an existential crisis, the mood shifts once more in 'The Parts'; a simple, half-whispered ballad reaffirming his total commitment to his wife, and Hull's declaration that he is, after all,“I still want to know every part”its. This is made all the more poignant by its position on the album: this realization comes after (or as a result of) an onslaught of doubt and fear. When he's unsure of everything around him, and he's shown to be worn and worn by all that came before, this love is his constant, the only thing he can be sure of. That's fucking romantic.
Closer up, 'The Silence' is a powerful testament to bettering, not exactly getting rid of these demons entirely ("little one you are cursed by my ancestry"), but recognizing them for what they are and managing them a little better. As the song builds towards its final dramatic wave, the recurring line once again takes on a new form and meaning: “there is nothing you keep, there is only a reflection.This nod to the influence she will have on her growing daughter serves as a way to combat the fear of facing her own mortality and as a reminder to always keep striving to do the best she can for her. It also brings the album full circle: after overcoming her fears and insecurities, the focus returns to Hull's devotion to her family and how she overcomes the pressures and fears that come from her. This perfectly sums up the overall theme of the album; the journey from a bad place to something better: walking that black mile to the surface.
This manipulation of a recurring lyric is a subtle but maddeningly clever way of marking the completion of the album's journey. While the immediacy of the song is compelling enough for a casual listener, there's certainly a payoff in multiple revisits. The complexity and scale of the callbacks and cross-song references will satisfy even the biggest easter egg nerds. WithABlack Mile to the surface, Manchester Orchestra have created a highly satisfying and dramatic body of work, a standout record in a discography that has already been littered with major releases. For a long time, your journey can continue.
Published inJuly 18, 2017ByjadecursonalbumsPublished inalbums
Talking about good things, yelling about bad things.