Review Summary: 'Simple Math' is the heaviest, and darkest record Manchester Orchestra have recorded, and this approach reaps breathtaking results. This album staggers at its lyrical honesty, astounds with its inventive song-structures, and generally amazes with its over
Maybe it is because I came late to Manchester Orchestra, this being the album with which i discovered them, or maybe it's because of the fact that i see Mellon Collie & The Infinite Sadness as my favourite Pumpkins album, but after reading many other reviews for this incredible record, I have to disagree with the constant accusations that it is either 'over-produced' or 'too ambitious'. It is, in its simplest form, a beautiful confession of regret, sorrow, and marital exhaustion from one human being to another.
Since their debut effort, Manchester Orchestra have blazed a trail through the notoriously turgid, crowded indie scene, proving with 2009's 'Mean Everything To Nothing' that they were a cut above the rest, both in songwriting talent and pure musicianship. Many, fans and critics alike, seem to view METN as their watermark, the bar they set and have not yet seemed to raise any higher. This is, quite simply, not true.
Starting off on a quiet note, it doesn't take long for the album to start simultaneously rocking and confessing, a trend that follows through for the rest of the record. Second track 'Mighty', with a slow, pounding rhythm and dramatic strings backing up the gut-wrenching guitar tones, this is definitely one of the stand out tracks on the album. Lightening the mood somewhat is 'Pensacola' my personal favourite song off the album (as i write this it currently numbers 16 plays on my iTunes alone). It twists and turns through major chord changes, dark lyrical matters, sing along chorus' and a somewhat surreal but nevertheless enjoyable trumpet appearance.
Songs such as 'April Fool', a rip-roaring rocker that doesn't let up on it's pace or intensity for four and a half minutes and 'Apprehension', a more relaxed song yet rhythmically it truly shows what the band are capable of as a musical unit allow the album and the listener to gain perspective on all the areas they showed us on their last two efforts, yet expanding on them with stand-out track and single 'Virgin'. A slow, almost funeral like feel with a full children's choir and built around a heavy, Nirvanaesque riff, it waxes and wanes in intensity until it finally peaks, and slowly disappears in a truly beautiful manner, showing a dynamic side to Manchester Orchestra I personally am yet to quite find anywhere else.
The truth with this album is that, after nine or ten months of fairly regular play, it is hard to find a bad track on it. If I had been writing this review even six months ago, I may have said that slower tracks such as 'Leave' It Alone or 'Deer' were the low points of an otherwise flawless record, but this is three months later and i have changed my mind. Even on the slower, less well defined points, the orchestral instrumentation they provide runs perfectly with the confessional nature of the lyrics and the whole rhythm of the album. The album as a whole seems to parallel the feeling of many of the songs. It fluctuates in rhythms, tones, feelings and sensations, but after enough listens it will never disappoint.
Inevitably, after a few plays certain tracks will stand out and those will be the ones you will initially play to death, but doing as I did and listening to those others lets you discover the subtleties, the nuances and the depth of this outstanding record, and one that I will give many more plays in years to come.