Review Summary: Isolation music.
Some men need inspiration, and others just need to be scared
'Cause we're going to make it out of here and go somewhere
These are unprecedented times. Entire nations are closing their borders in the wake of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic. The shelves of nearly every grocery store have been picked clean by doomsday hoarders, as other families struggle to acquire basic needs. Businesses are shutting down and causing breadwinners to lose their income. Hospitals are becoming overwhelmed. In some countries, the government is deploying troops to enforce
a shelter-in-place. I hate to sound overdramatic, but it feels an awful lot like the end of the world as we know it. At a time when virtually everything has been cancelled, we can take solace in the gift of music to see us through. Now more than ever, we need it.
It’s in this spirit that Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull has bestowed ten demos from the era of I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child
, one day after tweeting “oh man I’m putting something fun together for ya’ll” – as if he just woke up and decided that we all needed an extra boost to help us push through these times. The compilation stands in stark contrast to the chaos of what’s happening outside our windows – it’s as hushed as any Elliott Smith record, thriving on delicate acoustic plucks, lush melodies, and intimate atmospheres. Once you are drawn into Hull’s lyrical charm – and you will
be – it is easy to lose sight of the fact that these are demos. The songs breeze by your ears at a transient thirty-eight minutes, persistent in their sorrow and their wistful, rearview mirror gazing. It’s isolation music – a series of songs written fourteen years ago that have never felt more purposeful. Perhaps that’s why he chose to open the vault now.
Who Is Your Humble? (Demos: 2006-2007)
is a gorgeous listen that feels right at home alongside Manchester Orchestra’s I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child
– almost like its acoustic sibling. The emotional impact is tucked away in Hull’s confessional lyrics, such as when he sings “I write a letter to Kathy every day / I tell her I lover her, and tell her I pray/ She better know that I'm lying…” on the compilation’s title track. The stripped down, lo-fi canvas affords Hull’s voice all kinds of freedom that we don’t necessarily enjoy on his more polished productions – such as the way his voice slows to a whisper on ‘Wolves at Night Part 2’ and then cracks right before he launches into the song’s emotional peak: a refrain of “What is the gospel according to man? Well, it’s nothing.” Considering how minimal this demo compilation is, the sonic diversity from track to track is remarkable – ranging from raw and impassioned (‘Who Is Your Humble?’, ‘Wolves at Night Part 2’) to pristine, pastoral folk (‘Unholy Bathrooms’, ‘Are You The Light?’) that is merely a studio touch-up away from fitting right in on Bad Books’ 2019 stunner III
. It’s tempting to imagine how breathtaking some of these moments might have been after some fleshing out, but for demos they’re still way better than anyone could have expected.
The best musicians are the ones who stay connected with the world around them and find ways to improve it through their art. Andy Hull is one of those people, and while Who Is Your Humble? (Demos: 2006-2007)
isn’t hands-down the best thing he’s ever released across his many projects, it’s certainly an essential addition to any Manchester Orchestra diehard’s collection that feels very in-tune with the current state of affairs despite being more than a decade outdated. With any luck we’ll eventually see his Simple Math
b-sides (the fabled Sinful Math
), but these demos take us back to the raw, heartbreaking sincerity of Manchester Orchestra’s roots in a time where many of us – sheltering in place as the Coronavirus rages across the globe – have been forced to return to life’s simplest pleasures. Spending time with family. Walking through your local park. Reading a book. Listening to music
. Singing, laughing…hoping. These are things that not even a global pandemic can erase, and in that way, these bare, beautiful, and scratchy demos embody the spirit of mankind - scrappy, bleeding, but resilient. It’s just as Hull sings on the opening track: “We’re gonna make it out of here, and go somewhere.”