Review Summary: What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?
Manchester Orchestra’s Simple Math
is one of those albums that seemed destined for great things. From the release of the majestic single ‘Simple Math’ to the gradual unveiling of the rollicking ‘April Fool’ and haunting ‘Virgin’, there was no preventing the escalation that ensued. Expectations accumulated and became so concentrated that the threat of an immense letdown loomed on the horizon. It was a logical fear, considering how impossible it would have been to top the musically epic and lyrically profound title track; not to mention the fact that the band’s previous two releases, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child
and Mean Everything to Nothing
, were both very well-received amongst a growing and ever loyal fan base. At the same time, however, there was a mystical, intangible quality surrounding Simple Math
that seemed to provide an unreasonable amount of reassurance. This was going
to be masterful, and almost like some overpowering force of nature, there was nothing anyone could do to alter its destined course. One listen is all it takes to be convinced of Simple Math
’s brilliance, as its larger-than-life sound, gorgeous melodies, earnest lyrics, and sweeping strings will provide the transcendental experience of a lifetime – one that could forever change your opinion on what alternative southern rock bands are capable of achieving.
For avid fans of Manchester Orchestra, Simple Math
is sure to be a spiritual occurrence. After all it is what they have been waiting for ever since the closing minutes of “The River”, a track not unlike the material present here only not quite as staggering. A matter of weeks ago, one could have argued that Manchester Orchestra has long been atop of their game; but Simple Math
basically takes all the best aspects of the band, from the lush, moving ballads to the intense, raucous screams and makes something so fresh sounding and substantially more impressive that it is difficult to digest just how much their sound has progressed and matured. Even from the get-go, ‘Deer’ ushers Simple Math
in like the dawning of a new era. Echoing guitar strings are plucked over a distant sounding chant, and like a burst of sunlight, vocalist Any Hull is already dropping moments of lyrical genius on us with lines like, “ Half a year and here you are again / I’d go out in public if nobody ever asked / I sit home and drink alone and hope that bottle speaks, like you, like us, like me
.” The song exits quietly, bidding adieu to the past and welcoming in the future - welcoming in Simple Math
. Perhaps it can not be better summarized than Hull already states it in the closing line of the song: “Dear everybody that has paid to see my band…I acted like an asshole so my albums would never burn…But I’m hungry now, and the scraps are dirty dirt.
As Simple Math
runs its course, it obliterates expectations and defies the odds of a letdown with each and every one of its ten songs. Obvious highlights include the heavily orchestral ‘Mighty’, the borderline eccentric vocals in ‘Pensacola’, the impressive instrumental tightness of ‘April Fool’, and the soaring musical and lyrical achievements of ‘Simple Math.’ However, there is nary a weak track on the album, in fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a song that is even average
. Every moment is inventive, exciting, and one-hundred percent Manchester Orchestra. The songs also feed off of each other, using subtleties like momentum, flow, and common themes to create the ultimate cathartic experience for the listener – one that is strong from the start, and only gets better. Perhaps the best mid-album find, and yet another gem on an album overflowing with them, is ‘Virgin’ – a track that manages to sound eerie yet urgently compelling and includes an unforgettable, creepy children’s choir. ‘Leaky Breaks’ closes out the magnificent conjuration in a rather cool, offhand fashion that despite its anticlimactic nature, turns out to be very complex and intriguing…it just chooses to delicately reveal itself, slowly unraveling in waves of mini-crescendos and lulling vocals from front man Andy Hull. And as it stands, brilliant and capable on its own, it is right on theme with the rest of Simple Math
; the unquestioned magnum opus of Manchester Orchestra’s career to date.
Even beyond the vast scope of musical greatness contained within Manchester Orchestra’s fourth LP, there is an element of transcendentalism that goes far beyond what we can take from the album’s surface value. Perception can be a powerful thing, and Manchester Orchestra plays to all of one’s senses here, particularly of the intellectual and emotional nature, by raising ambiguous questions that spur internal conflict. There is perhaps no better illustration of this than the title track, which to a full-sounding orchestra and an abundance of string sections, commands us to ponder the very purpose of our existence:
What if I was wrong and no one cared to mention
What if it was true and all we thought was right was wrong?
Simple math, the truth cannot be fractioned
What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been?
Simple math, believe me, all is brilliant
Hull could be raising a number of different points here, from the insistence that we, as human beings, have a tendency to trust what generations of science have told us to be true. But what if our perceptions, down to the very inch, are wrong
? There is no way of knowing, and the very notion of that possible instability in our society’s foundation is earth-shattering…and to be blunt, the kind of thing that makes your head spin when you are laying in bed at night. The lyrics also take on meaning double fold, as they could be applied to the band, you, me, or anyone else by implying that our never ending pursuit of perfection may end in this present moment. What if we’ve been trying to get to where we’ve always been? There is no telling what tomorrow holds, and what we perceive as a horizon, as an ideal future
, could all be a mirage. Today could be as good as it gets, and Manchester Orchestra knows it. Just look at this album – they have always had it in them, they just had to go ahead and make it. Simple Math
is deeper and more insightful than many people are probably even aware of, and careful inspection of Andy Hull’s lyrical masterpieces take these musical accomplishments and give them a timeless factor, one that quite frankly is nothing short of artistic.
is colossal in every way imaginable. It takes every hint of brilliance that Manchester Orchestra has subtly displayed in "I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child" and "Mean Everything to Nothing", and nurtures and cultivates it into the single greatest sounding thing that the band has ever and likely ever will create. At times glossed over with heart-swelling strings and at other times perfecting the band's nitty gritty sound from songs like "Shake It Out", Simple Math is the perfect balance of Manchester Orchestra's best traits. It is utterly breathtaking upon first listen, and every subsequent listen will only cause your jaw to drop an additional inch or two. It will stand the test of time as it makes its mark on a generation, simultaneously inspiring others to follow in its footsteps. This is simply the greatest album to be released in the past five years, and it will be worth every drop of hyperbolic acclaim that it receives.