Review Summary: The fire in the rear view.
It's incorrect to say that Manchester Orchestra 'got softer' over time, like they packed up their electric guitars and started sitting around campfires singing folk ditties after 2009. More accurate to say they converted their sound into widescreen, a 4k transfer that broadened their horizons beyond what Andy Hull's widening vocal range and some chugging guitars could encompass. Hull's tales of drifters, killers and broken homes, dotted here and there with fragments of his real life and family, have remained the focus even as the band settled on a horizon-hazed, dreamy version of indie rock that isn't afraid to bust out the riffs every now and again.
Yet even by the band's excellent, if admittedly sedate recent pacing, The Valley of Vision
is positively withdrawn. This EP acts as a postlude to The Million Masks of God
, a gentle coda that's even more reserved and tranquil than its parent album. Hull's beautiful harmonies are more in the forefront than they've been since Swiss Army Man
, the band mostly present to conjure up a simple backdrop, which isn't as much of a problem with a stunning performance from the singer on "Rear View". And where The Million Masks of God
's blood-and-thunder fury bubbled under the surface of soft folk and lightly patterned electronics, a simmering tension largely borne out of the death of Robert McDowell's father, The Valley of Vision
is more like a meditation on how to keep living after tragedy. It's a touch too sedate for this lofty goal, settling for a combination between Copeland's Blushing
and Thrice's Water EP
which is pretty, well-written and generally fine
. Highlight cut "Quietly" is not coincidentally the most dynamic, beginning with an atmospheric swirl that recalls the spatial audio sounds of Bad Books III
before exploding into a top-quality full-band bridge. "Letting Go" is the most Copeland-esque cut with a looping heavily treated vocal propelling the song, while the slowburn-explosion "Rear View" ranks as one of the band's finest ever closers.
Manchester Orchestra are too deep into a career too consistently good to ever be in danger of falling off a cliff; instead the real danger that's lurking for the band is stagnation, as they drill down further on a sound they've already arguably mastered to results that are never objectionable but rarely inspirational. Who knows what the band's next move is - a downscale perhaps, taking that 4k quality and filtering it back down to a faded sepia VHS, or becoming even bolder with the album-length concepts they've been coyly toying with, turning that sound into a full-blown theatre production. Whatever they do, it will most likely be pleasant and never objectionable, but here's to hoping that roaring fire that once guided them through a black mile to the surface can find a little more fuel.