Manchester Orchestra – “The Silence”
Every time I think I’ve heard the best that Manchester Orchestra has to offer, they surprise me. In 2006, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child floored me – the earnest vulnerability of “Colly Strings” sticking with me through many relationships. In 2009 it was the raw simplicity of Mean Everything to Nothing, where the tragic storytelling of “I Can Feel a Hot One” practically reduced me to tears. In 2011, it was the sweeping magnificence of Simple Math, its title track probing questions of faith and existence that I’d never pondered before. I never thought they’d top a moment of such profundity, but lo and behold, 2017’s A Black Mile to the Surface did exactly that. Trying to select a song by Manchester Orchestra to represent this decade was probably the toughest decision I’ve had to make yet, but when all the smoke finally settled, it was “The Silence” that was left standing.
At a towering seven minutes, “The Silence” brings closure to the emotional wreckage entailed by A Black Mile. The album has several themes coursing through its veins – some obvious (such as Hull’s tales of abuse growing up) and some more subtle (allusions to miscarriage). Through all of the recounted tragedy, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that Andy wrote the song for his daughter – as both an apology and a promise. “Little girl, you are cursed by my ancestry / There is nothing but darkness and agony”, he sings of his own upbringing – eventually resolving to do better by her: “Let me hold you above all the misery / Let me open my eyes and be glad that I got here.” It’s a moment that is both beautiful and intense, residing at the crux of the song in which the tempo shifts from plodding/ponderous to a crescendo of drums and guitars clashing thunderously off in the distance. In this moment, Hull sees that his daughter is the only extension of his life that really matters: “There is nothing you keep, there is only your reflection.” Then, there’s a moment of pure genius where the same line is faintly echoed mere moments later, acting as the “echo” to said reflection.
Everything about “The Silence” is beautiful, from the music to its lyrics. The latter is something I can relate to with ease right now, as I prepare for the birth of my first child. I’ve said and done a lot of things in my life that I’m not proud of, but I know that my son will grow up to become a better man than I am. As my reflection, he will unintentionally / inevitably learn some undesirable traits; just as I did from my father and his father before him. But the trajectory is pointing up; and as a family we’ll keep improving – through the black, to the surface. I can’t think of a song with a more important message than that.