Review Summary: Underneath a seemingly unoriginal musical endeavor is raw emotion and skillfully crafted drama to be admired from a young and upcoming act.
At the surface, Manchester Orchestra's "I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child" is merely a second-rate recycling of Death Cab for Cutie's "Translanticism." Same synthesizer-laden indie anthems about emotion. At face value we have a decent record worth a 2 or 3 out of 5.
But I like to look past the obvious. Looking back at the recent Rock-and-Roll Folklore, there are plenty of bands that lacked true ingenuity--even musical talent--and were still able to set themselves apart as some of the most important rock and roll bands ever. Look at the Sex Pistols. Their act was already done fifty times over by the Ramones, Black Flag, The Stooges, and the like. The music made by their countrymen (that is, the likes of The Who, The Stones, Led Zeppelin) was still being held up as the epitome of rock and roll. The Pistols' "Nevermind the Bollocks" was nothing more than mediocre punk. So why did they stand out?
Because they possessed an intangible, defiant edge to their music and persona that defined the punk generation of the 70's and 80's. It lay deep beneath the thumbs up/thumbs down of consumer concerns and made itself apparent only to the dedicated listener.
So now you're asking yourself, "How in the hell is he going to compare a measly indie act like Manchester Orchestra to punk gods like the Pistols?" Manchester Orchestra has that extra intangible on "Virgin" that requires an acute ear. It isn't the defiant edge of the Pistols, but the palpable emotion that exists behind the trendy indie musicianship.
It starts with the wavering vocals and mind-bending lyrics of Andy Hull. His voice is honest and expressive, and very truly reflects the mood of each song. He can bounce along with songs like "I Heard the Neighborhood Was Bleeding" and "Wolves at Night." When he whispers "I can feel your pain...deep in my bones," we believe him wholeheartedly. When he screams "Oh my God, where have you been?", we want to tell him. For what it lacks in range and strength, Hull's voice does wonders for the record as a whole, offering a different potent dramatic element with each track.
The other part of Manchester Orchestra's intangible set-apart quality is their musical arrangement. Mainly, in the stop-start quality of tracks like "Golden Ticket" with soft, slow verses and defeated vocals suddenly, almost shockingly jumping to a heavy, catchy riff in the chorus. Coupled with the aforementioned dramatic element brought by Hull's voice, it makes for an exciting sonic roller coaster. Songs like the closing track "Colly Strings" bring us on the same roller coaster in a different way. The soft, humble, almost ambient first half of the song is the ascent. Before the freefall, we can hear the hydraulics hiss. As Hull whispers "don't release me/ until its over" we throw our hands in the air as we plummet downward into the song's final climax. These and other songs bring us back and forth through all different emotions, and do so impressively.
If you listen to this album once, it deserves a 2 out of 5. I believe that those with the right discerning ears can appreciate not only what makes this album great, but what makes this band so promising.