Manchester Orchestra
A Black Mile to the Surface


5.0
classic

Review

by Sowing STAFF
August 2nd, 2022 | 60 replies


Release Date: 2017 | Tracklist

Review Summary: There is nothing you keep, there is only your reflection.

Music isn't supposed to hit this hard anymore. When you're in college and discovering the world, sure - everything sounds like a revelation. But when you're thirty-five, constantly racing around between your full-time job and a home under seige by a toddler and newborn, it loses its luster and becomes more about nostalgia. You'll recall how The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me helped you grapple with your best friend's death and the ensuing loss of faith. You'll miss Southern Air's warmth as you long to go back to the first summer you spent dating your eventual wife. But those memories, at least to me, are rooted in a feeling that has come and gone - they feel like old friends with whom I've lost touch. Few if any albums have evolved with me, save for A Black Mile to the Surface - a record that dropped right as my wife and I lost our first child. I used to scream the lyrics to 'Lead, SD' on my long drive home from work, as if to expel all of the anger from my soul before twisting open that front door. For years, this whole album represented the darkest pockets of my mind; a bleak, dense vitriol against the entire world that I couldn't quite put into words.

As time wore on, it somehow managed to transform into something totally different. As a father to two, I'm no longer haunted by the clips of children's voices that Hull & co. left interspersed between tracks. Instead of representing the broken, indecipherable sounds of a son or daughter who I never got to meet, they sound familiar; full of vitality and hope. 'The Maze' - which was a breathtaking song to begin with - had its beauty multiplied the second I held my first son in my arms. That very same moment opened my eyes to the true meaning of 'The Silence', because I suddenly and immediately understood what Andy Hull meant when he sang, "I can not only see, but you stopped me from blinking." For me, the journey became the destination: A Black Mile to the Surface.

There's inherent subjectivity to music, hence why we all perceive it differently. I'm not going to pretend that this record was written for me, although sometimes it feels that way. Who it was written for is anyone enduring a seemingly hopeless time in their life. There's a literal narrative about a mining town and a man who opens-fire in a grocery store before attempting suicide, but I've never cared to unravel that storyline because the album's perceived implications are far greater. Black Mile deals not only with fatherhood, but also with child abuse, bullying, divorce, faith, and death - not to mention countless other themes which collectively course through the album's veins. It's written in such a way that anyone who's suffering can immediately relate to its despair. Of course, the hope is that you'll emerge from that figuratively collapsing mineshaft to tell your story - and with any luck, it'll be a slightly more hopeful one.

A Black Mile to the Surface is best represented by the dichotomy between "there is nothing I've got when I die that I keep" and "there is nothing you keep, there is only your reflection." The former passage stems from 'The Maze' and offers the narrator's views prior to fatherhood, whereas the latter is taken from 'The Silence' and represents a newfound perspective. Although his material possessions will absolutely fade, his life will continue to be reflected through his daughter. With that tremendous responsibility also comes opportunity: in shaping how you'll be remembered, you essentially get to create your own afterlife. It may only be a sliver of light amid the certainty of death, but sometimes that's all you need.



s
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user ratings (885)
4.1
excellent
other reviews of this album
Rowan5215 STAFF (4.8)
and I, felt love.... again...

DropTune (5)
A Black Mile to the Surface is a shining example of storytelling like never before....



Comments:Add a Comment 
Gyromania
August 2nd 2022


34821 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

This reminds me a lot of Chan's retrospective on Devil & God, an album you happened to mention in this review lol. Obv different tonally tho. Really great writing, I like these reviews that encourage the reader to reflect on the classics

mir4ge
August 2nd 2022


41 Comments


Got my dad into this band. He absolutely loved The Silence. Hope he loved it too at his funeral

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
August 2nd 2022


28577 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

I'd swear you had reviewed this (wonderfully too) back in the day, maybe I'm confused idk.



Nevertheless, as daddy dewi myself i can say that yes this album started to hit very differently after the little one came to be.

Sunnyvale
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


4072 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Yeah, I thought this album already had one of the classic reviews in the Sowing canon...



Nonetheless, great work here!

bgillesp
August 3rd 2022


8538 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Also thought the same, but this is nice too

YoYoMancuso
Contributing Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


16937 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Wonderful review

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


17436 Comments


I'd swear you had reviewed this (wonderfully too) back in the day, maybe I'm confused idk.

Probably dibbed all the blurbs for the playlists and year end stuff. Our brains are just doing what they need to make sense of it all. I had the same thoughts lol.

YoYoMancuso
Contributing Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


16937 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

brb gonna go to the sperm bank so I can 5 this album one day

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


17436 Comments


No son, you need to build it up a couple years. That way you don't just want to, you need to.

YoYoMancuso
Contributing Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


16937 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

This has been another episode of “Sput Staff Dad Wisdom”

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


28577 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

You are also welcome to fuck off Mancuso.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


28577 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

There, some sput staff dad wisdom for you, for free, don't mention it.

Gnocchi
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


17436 Comments


Imagine being the dad who names your kid "Jack".

Rowan5215
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


46709 Comments

Album Rating: 4.7

Sowing definitely reviewed this back in the day, I remember the feeling of annoyance that he totally upstaged my review being replaced by awe at how good it was



really lovely to read this years later and see how things have changed though. great stuff

furpa
August 3rd 2022


611 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Man, I loved reading this. Beautiful review, stunningly brilliant album. Thank you for this Sowing.

ashcrash9
August 3rd 2022


3193 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Of all the albums that seemed like inevitable 5s and future classics for me, I still don't know why this one didn't fully click for months. So glad it eventually did. Nice re-done review, Sowing

Sowing
Moderator
August 3rd 2022


41803 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

Thanks all! I did review this back in 2017, and while it was undoubtedly an emotional/heartfelt piece, I felt like it was time to re-frame the album's meaning as I see it today (speaking of which, I wrote this late last night and just now made some morning edits). This is my favorite album of all-time at this particular moment, and 'The Silence' is my favorite song, so it's hard not to go on about Black Mile even if nothing I say will approach the effortless combination of musical distillation and personal angle that Rowan achieved with his flawless review (also, don't believe him when he says that anything I've ever typed on this website has even remotely approached upstaging him - we're talking minor league vs. major league here). Regardless, my old review was an outlet for me at the time in 2017 that I don't necessarily relate to anymore, so I saved that one for personal reference and wrote from a fresh perspective five years/two kids later. I could have written 10 pages just on The Silence alone, which is why it's probably best that I took to summarizing.

Feather
August 3rd 2022


8396 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Great review for an absolutely stunning album. Love the re-frame. I just caught their show this past Thursday and it was just as incredible as always and was pumped that despite being a festival setting they still ended on The Silence. After reading this review i had to hop on Spotify to see if they had a live version of the silence posted and sure enough that’s one of the only live renditions up for streaming!



I know how to speak and bad things to such good people are absolutely perfect b-sides off this as well for those of you who havnt checked those.

Dewinged
Staff Reviewer
August 3rd 2022


28577 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

The old write was probably my favorite piece of yours Sow, but I like what you did here too.



The Silence is also my favorite of the album and I have teared and screamed at that ending more times that I care to admit, both before and after the little one was born, cause before being a father I was also a son.

Shemson
August 3rd 2022


2732 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

What a lovely personal review. Well written mate.



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