Review Summary: Starting To Mean Just Everything..
I have a wide range of music I listen to and love, and over the past two years or so I have developed an unhealthy obsession with Brand New's "The Devil & God Are Raging Inside Me." Being a user on this site, I know I am not alone on this. I listen to everything from Enya to the Mars Volta, but that album simply entails most everything I love in music. Deeper lyrics revolving more around a narrative style, soft/loud dynamics executed beautifully, melodies that sound so raw and real, it's hard to believe it's still music you're listening to after awhile. The reason I mention this album is because of my initial hesitance to get into Manchester Orchestra.
My friend always swore to me they reminded him of Brand New, so I gave them a chance, albeit a half-hearted chance, and wasn't impressed. I was missing the Brand New connection almost entirely, and looking back, because of this I was missing the point entirely. My first misstep was beginning with their debut "I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child", an album I now find myself infatuated with. Andy Hull's high pitched vocals mixed with the tuned down guitars on their debut rubbed me the wrong way. The next time I heard these high pitched vocals, a couple months down the road, instead of turning the volume down, I found my wrist committing the opposite act. "The Only One" came ringing through my speakers, and Hull's voice sounded so familiar to me. Needless to say that by the end of the first song, which mixes Beach Boy harmonies (subtle, but they exist), hand claps, somewhat confusing yet thought provoking lyrics, and an ending riff that will surely have your air guitar tuned to 11, I was sold. Yes there are small hints of Brand New, but also a darker Death Cab, Bright Eyes, Neutral Milk Hotel, and a formula all their own. The album plays out as 11 separate different pieces entirely, which may be annoying for the untrained ear. Manchester does not just rest on one sound as each song could certainly be made by a different band. "The Only One" sounds like Kings Of Leon should have sounded on their early albums, while "Pride" sounds like Conor Oberst fronting Black Sabbath in its first half, with an apocalyptic rock out that would make Local H proud. I don't mean to throw around these one dollar comparisons, but being a relatively small band, it's good to give people an idea of what they're somewhat in for. The melodies on this and their first album give me the same warming sensation I receive upon listening to my favorite albums ever (i.e. "Devil & God"). The band has some small quirks to work out, but who really doesn't?
Overall this is a highly diverse, emotional album that isn't afraid to flex its muscles in contrast with most indie bands, where being conservative is the new rock n' roll. Screw that. Manchester enjoys blasting chords even if you're not ready for it (Pride, Shake It Off, etc.). Once the dust settles following a song like "Pride", the listener feels there is nowhere left to go after such an epic, angry, angry song, that should have been the album closer. But such a talented band would never place a track so high in the listing without intent. "In My Teeth" follows it up beautifully with an equal dose of pop and heavy, yet focused jamming. "100 Dollars" is every bit Bright Eyes as it is Neutral Milk Hotel as it has Andy Hull alone with an acoustic guitar singing of solitude in its first half, with a heavily distorted electric guitar paired with his throat scratching scream for the second demanding money from his contemporaries. A strange track indeed, but wholly necessary.
To retract, I must say that "I've Got Friends" is nothing to sneeze at either, especially for being the album's single; which has actually begun to get airplay on my town's awful hard rock station. It's a song that builds on itself, from the modest opening key board riff, to the bridge that follows the first chorus with Andy Hull frighteningly belting "Dirt in the ground is what I see/I need another reason why/I need another reason, tell me to breathe". This is followed with the aforementioned keyboard still playing, with a heavy jab riff playing over it. This is one of my favorite moments musically of 2009. It's the subtle things like this that make this such a strong album.
Other highlights include "I Can Feel A Hot One" (dare you not to be touched by this song), and "My Friend Marcus", which also balances the tightrope act of pop and heavy rock. Hull's vocals have improved from the first album, sounding a bit raspier and even adding more of his native southern tinge. I cannot see him pulling off his emotional, might I add highly believable vocal performance in the breathtaking closer, "The River". Guitars are turned up, anger is turned up, melody is turned up, can't wait for their new album, as I know they are fully capable of making something groundbreaking and special.