The Manchester Orchestra knows winter is coming (2023)

"I look at my daughter and think, 'You're so perfect and innocent, but eventually life is going to happen to you. And there's nothing I can do about it.' Andy Hull says this with the same combination of sincerity and absurdity with which he says most things, both on and off his records. He sits with his brother-in-law and former Manchester Orchestra collaborator Robert McDowell in a Manhattan pub, alternating sips of Belgian beer with surreptitious drags on e-cigarettes. Hull stares at me and speaks with a slight Atlanta accent. "I can do all I can to protect you and do what I can," he says, "but winter is coming for you, as it is for all of us." A kind, passionate smile forms in the middle of his unkempt beard as he realizes the weight of that line, thewar two thronesallusion within it, and the size of bets you have set.


A black mile to the surface, the Manchester Orchestra's fifth studio album, deals with this looming existential terror with now-typical obliquity. On the one hand, it's a concept album about a small winter town in South Dakota that no member of the Manchester Orchestra has ever driven through; on the other, it's a memory trapped between a stream of first- and second-person pronouns. It's the most lyrically intricate and sonically ambitious record the band has ever made. It's also his best.

In many ways, it had to be. Hull founded the Manchester Orchestra in 2004, his final year of high school, and brought a group of friends to support him from the start – this is the 'orchestra' he envisioned around him. For the last 13 years, the band has paved its way through god-fearing acoustic calculations, beautifully harmonic rock music and crushing distortion, all the while maintaining a sarcastic, self-deprecating humour. With four studio albums, plus three Hull solo albums, two McDowell albums, two LPs with Kevin Devine as Bad Books and countless cult demos by the band, the Manchester Orchestra were reaching a creative limit.

Hull, now 30, has been married to his wife, Amy, since 2008; their daughter Mayzie was born three years ago. This time he tried to write more love songs for his wife and wonderful songs for his daughter. "It sounds bad," he says, "but that wasn't all that inspiring to me. I was like, 'Man, they know I love them!'" So he tried to launch himself into something different. He remembered what the bitter winters were like: he had spent seven years in Canada as a boy, when his father had moved to Toronto to be a minister. "I remember, every year, the summers were fantastic, and the falls were amazing, and you'd start to get into winter and it was like... oh." In South Dakota, he supposed, it was very cold. He searched online for photos of the midwestern state in winter. He was immediately blocked.


With a scenario in mind, Hull began writing lyrics for something he saw existing amongTwin Peaks, the albumyfargo the album: cold, strange, darkly comic. 🇧🇷fargo the albumit was kind of a story [about] the desolation, the darkness, the 'My God, it's so cold.' And thentwin peaksthe album was the fantastic, imaginative, ulterior, almost magical part of it." Its existence is stranger than that. Home of the Sanford Underground Research Facility, experiments are conducted on dark matter (otherworldly particles) underground. new world in your head.

When I met Hull last April, ahead of a solo performance at The Bell House in Brooklyn, the Manchester Orchestra had just completed its first sessions for the album in North Carolina with producer Catherine Marks. Hull was fully invested in the concept of South Dakota, describing what would become… Black Mileas a "really crafted story". He had written the "seed" for the album, "Lead, SD", and was excited to get outside of himself for a while. "The easiest thing is to write about yourself," he told me then. "And then eventually you'll get to a place where your self is pretty centered, I hope, and you're pretty good. Things aren't chaotic and you're not a lunatic anymore." , late 20s, you're starting to enter adulthood... that's when you have to go research and find things that inspire you and go find stories that are crazy and put yourself in these characters' shoes and write with sincerity. that place".


But, he tells me now, the pure concept had its limits. “That time when I talked to you, it was when I was thinking, 'Okay, I'm going to try to map this crazy, elaborate, connected thing.' And then, as we worked, I realized it was getting a little bigger than the concept album." Mayzie was the spark. "My daughter started the idea," she says. "Now I'm just a part of this larger family story and ancestry."

Inside… Black Mile, you can hear the greatness of this story right away. Opener "The Maze" follows an almost identical structure to "Deer", the first song on the band's 2011 album.simple math🇧🇷 But where "Deer" was snarky in its bewilderment: "Dear all who paid to see my band / It's still confusing, I'll never understand," "The Maze" quietly expands. "Wish me wonder and wish me sleep," sings Hull over simple, elegant chords. "You don't have to roam to hear when I speak / There's nothing I have when I die to keep / It's amazing." He's still confused: "Someone said it's love unspeakable / Well you think I can't speak well / You're a maze to me." But confusion is beautiful for Hull. The song ends with an affirmation sung over a chorus of harmonies: "You take this load off my shoulders."

This, says Hull, is the first song he has written for his daughter. But, like everything he and the Manchester Orchestra have written, it's not well defined in context. His lyrics have always been intentionally meandering, confusing until the sixth or seventh listen, at which point the listener's understanding is far removed from Hull's source. On the raw, acoustic "I Can Feel Your Pain" from their 2006 debutI'm like a virgin losing a childFor example, Hull sang aloud about the circumstances of a funeral, presumably speaking to the deceased: "I ran away and came across something / That I swore was anything but beautiful / I only say that word to you."

The title song of 2009means everything for nothingopens with another hint: "It's definitely not the things I'm seeing / I thought I'd see so instantly?" at the time ofsimple math, Hull had turned these distant allusions into something more pointed. On "Simple Math," a beautiful song about infidelity, she sings of "hunter eyes" and torn lips, but falls into a reverie on the chorus: "What if I was wrong and no one cared to mention it? / What if I was Was it true? And everything we thought was right was wrong? On Manchester Orchestra records, things can be much bigger and much smaller than they appear. Sex is a theological crisis; death is just atoms; God is gone.

pronto… Black Mile's "Lead, SD", when Hull first hints at the approaching disaster in "The Grocery", the character collapsed on Hull, and Hull collapsed on himself. "Is it temporary? Guess I don't want to be a father / No one knew today would be the day they lost him."

"Like I was going to write that," says Hull now. “In my mind, it was from the perspective of one character. But after I wrote that, I thought, 'Oh yeah, this character is just the guy who thought exactly the same way as you.' And then it really started to open up. 🇧🇷

If there's a wall between Hull and its characters in… Black Mile, is made of tracing paper. On "The Grocery", he sings over some hauntingly beautiful guitars: "You walk into the supermarket / And unload several rounds / 'Don't you dare move a muscle / Cardboard cutouts'." This is character work. Hull told me last year, when the song was in its infancy, that he had written "a song about a kid who works in a grocery store, whose girlfriend is pregnant [...] and someone walks into the store and shoots up the grocery store." But here she slips between the voices. Midway through filming the song, Hull sings, "I wanna feel like your daddy felt, was it easy to believe? / I wanna know if there's a greater love he saw that I can't." Hull's father's faith has always been present on Manchester Orchestra records, often as a way of highlighting Hull's own theological questions and crises. He's at the supermarket too.


"The Grocery" is the conclusion of a trilogy of mid-album tracks that must be considered the Manchester Orchestra's crowning musical achievement. "The Alien", the album's lead single, is one of Hull's most moving pieces of narrative, the story of a car crash in his imagined Lead. It tackles small-town insularity, guilt, the supernatural and family, but again, Hull is fully present: the car crashes.forever consummatedto him. "The Sunshine" closes the gap with more hallucinations: "I already know, I don't know yet / You're the ray of sunshine", before "The Grocery" changes the location but similarly asks in new ways. The chord structures and melodies are just gentle variations on a theme throughout the three songs; the only real change is the texture.

It is the opposite of the internal weight of 2014confrontand intentional softness of the same yearExpect("Two sides of the same coin," says Hull now.) Part of that comes from a newfound confidence. Amongconfront/Expectyou…black mileIn the early sessions, Hull and McDowell scored the strange and charming 2016 film by Daniel Kwan and Daniel army man🇧🇷 Half of the music had to be written before filming, the other half afterwards; it was all melody and feeling, with less reliance on Hull's lyrics. Everything was new; McDowell and Hull worked hard.

This confirmed something McDowell had been convinced of for years. "What [an album] needs to do is affect the listener in a way that, as they digest the story, they let go and find themselves emotionally in the right space." Hull says the project was "a great teacher for us. You can make a song that's fifteen seconds long and it's super strong." When you can write a quarter-minute song that moves the listener, an album offers a lot of space.


That confidence wasn't easily expressed: the album was late, Marks came and went, Hull and McDowell were meticulous to the point of compulsion with their ideas..But it did give us the Manchester Orchestra's most complete, impressive and emotionally resonant record yet. I remind Hull of an interview from the band's early years, when he stated, rather nonchalantly, that they wanted to be "the biggest band in the world". Their idea changed a bit, he says with a laugh, from wanting to be "the biggest band in the world, to being the biggest band in the world". Or, at the very least, "Every record has to be the best record you can make, the year you make it."

Hull says this like a compulsive student of composition. He's always wanted to explore the songwriters that move him: Loudon Wainwright III, John K Samson and, in ways he admits he'll never be able to replicate, Young Thug. In "The Feasts",… Black MileThe penultimate song by , does this beautifully. It's a song that charts Hull's relationship with his wife, and he's nowhere near South Dakota; He's Back Home It's closer, more specific and, in its own way, more startlingly beautiful than anything Hull has written before: "A yellow SUV / Britney Spears on the roof / You looked my way but didn't want to. talk to me." 🇧🇷 She then skips to her daughter's birth: "Give her 13 years / Both legs up, you're crying / Trying to squeeze a life out of your womb." Always come back to the same line: "I want to know every part of you."

"I got very literal about being in the hospital room with my wife while she's giving birth. I feel like that kind of thing... I feel more complete after a song like that." He laughs because, once again, he realizes the stakes are high now. "So I guess it's something I feel I should share."

Alex Robert Ross knows how to play "50 Cent" on guitar. follow him onGore.

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