6 August 2017

Manchester Orchestra - A Black Mile to the Surface


Manchester Orchestra are an act that are new to these pages, one that I have not heard about, even though they have been around since 2004.  Formed in Atlanta, Georgia, the band have released four previous studio album, several EP’s and it looks like they have toured around the world a fair few times.  A Black Mile to the Surface is their first album since the twin releases of Cope & Hope were released in 2014, which has been receiving love from all corners of the musical press and it is the latest addition to our own Cover Roulette section of this blog.  I picked to review it based on the cover alone, it is a stark image of someone hanging off a tree.  Will the music be as bleak?

01 – The Maze

From the outset, the style of Manchester Orchestra reminds me of early Florence + The Machine without the powerful vocals.  This song is a gentle build with intentions of being the most amazing song ever.  It is a song about having your worries taken from you, but not without issues or the possibility of pain.  It is a good introduction to the album, with huge ideals behind the record, even in its gentle beginning.

02 – The Gold

Reminding me of Anna Ternheim, ‘The Gold’ is a song about the end of a relationship and how sometimes people need to move out and out of their current situation after all has been said and done.  It is a song that is done from the point of view of the instigator to the break up, so it feels as if there is an anger to the song and everything is a little aggressive to be honest.  It is another song with an epic feeling, another track that is aiming to be an all-important record for everyone. 

03 – The Moth

The subject of change is at the centre of this song, how one thing becomes another and the passions that come with human emotion.  It is another epic feeling song, with dynamic riffs, moody verses and massive breaks.  It is a great song, one that never loses that emotional impact.  But did we need another life-affirming moment so soon?

04 – Lead, SD

Lead, SD” is the only track which does not have the word “the” in the title, but it is in keeping with the albums tone.  The lyrics are about a breakdown of sorts, mentally and physically with a lot of twists and turns to the music.  This is the song of the album for me, it has the right mixture, plenty of ambition in sound and it is one that I have been unable to shake since I first heard it.  Only complaint – another epic song?

05 – The Alien

Even when they are toning it down, they are still dealing in epic music!  A song about how one small selfish action can have repercussions for all those nearest and dearest to you.  It is a gentle piece, but that feeling that this song is also the most important song of your life does not dissipate.  It is well played, but even in their quite moments they just cannot do subtle too well.

06 – The Sunshine

This song is about the relationship between singer Andy Hull and his daughter, how his daughter is his sunrise, his moonrise, his everything.  It is the shortest song on this album, one of the gentlest songs on here and another epic feeling number.  It is also an incredibly personal one for the band, one which is beyond reproach and one which will have a special meaning for so many people.

07 – The Grocery

A song about the need for escape and taking the most drastic of routes out in public, this is a strange song to follow up the previous heartfelt ode to family.  Once again, you are given a grandiose number that has so much passion behind it, that it is hard to take at times.  It hits every emotional spot, you cannot help but be impressed by the performance.  It is such a hard-hitting song, but I do wish for a rest from these epic moments as well.

08 – The Wolf

On an album of intense moments and songs, “The Wolf” is one of the darkest piece of music on A Black Mile to the Surface and that is not something I say lightly.  It is a haunted and (once again) epic song, twisting and turning throughout the song with all the presence of a hunter.  It lives up to its title, with lyrics that deal with a person who has anger and rage bubbling just below the surface.  It is a powerful song, it does not let up throughout and it is one of the highlights of A Black Mile…...

09 – The Mistake

A song about not wanting to be alone, to face your final moments with no-one by your side after walking away from someone.  It is a fantastic song, one which feels like it is beating up your heart.  Once again, it is another epic song and we are nine tracks into this album.  But it is well played and it sounds like heartache incarnate!

10 – The Parts

We reach the penultimate song with “The Parts” and even on an acoustic track that has been created for Andy Hull’s wife, they are still aiming for epic!  How does the man sleep with all these visions in his head!  I am not saying this is a bad song, it is a heartfelt ballad about wanting to know more about a loved one, I just wish he was able to tone the epic feeling down, just a little.

11 – The Silence

Ok, let’s get this over and done with – it is another epic feeling track.  There, I have said it and now I can focus on the song itself.  The song deals about how someone can pull emotions out of you with ease, how they can make everything right or wrong without even trying.  The build towards the end is as good as anything else on this album, it is another highlight on an album that does not have an off switch and it ends the album on a high note.

I love this album, but I think that it has a problem which I wish to address at the beginning of the round up – each song is built to feel epic, to feel like a life affirming experience and that it is the best track ever.  Now, I applaud the ambition behind this thinking, I applaud the talent of the band as they have a sound that will make Joe & Jane Indie-Public fall in love with them.  The sound behind the music is superb, as musicians I think that the Manchester Orchestra are one of the best acts in the world at present.  When you focus on one track at a time, they are all individually brilliant and I love each of them.  But here is the flipside to that sound - if everything is epic, then nothing is epic as it all ends up feeling the same.  It is this feeling that influences my marking on the album, they do not deal in subtlety very well and it results in an over reaching album that is beautifully crafted and one that I have ordered as well, but without any defined differences between the songs in terms of intensity and drive.  I am all for epic albums, but I also enjoy those light pools of relief in the middle of them as well.  That said, if you are going to make everything epic, then do it in style and Manchester Orchestra have done that.  It feels weird to give an album I like a lower mark for being too epic, especially when I will have a physical copy soon.  But I cannot get over the feeling that too much of a good thing has been detrimental to the overall impact of this album, no matter how good it sounds.  I adore this record and I cannot fault the quality of the band, but it is its own worst enemy. 

8 out of ten – Oh, now you have my attention and maybe my time, money and heart

Top track – Lead, SD

You can purchase A Black Mile to the Surface on Amazon here.

You can visit the Manchester Orchestra website here.

You can follow the activities of Manchester Orchestra here.

You can stream A Black Mile to the Surface on Spotify here.

You can stream A Black Mile to the Surface on Deezer here.

You can stream A Black Mile to the Surface on Tidal here.

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