Release Date: May 10, 2011
Record label: Columbia
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Manchester Orchestra wunderkind Andy Hull crystallizes a moment when "indie rock" isn't afraid to shout its personal failings to the upper arena tiers (see also: Arcade Fire, My Morning Jacket). Simple Math is more intimate and more massive than Manchester's previous sets, as the Atlanta group supersizes the kitchen-sink approach of fellow Georgians in the Elephant 6 collective to depict a panoply of crises: spiritual, marital, chemical, whaddya got? "Virgin" uses a children's choir and steroided Salvation Army brass to parse lost trust; elsewhere, pop-metal guitar and prog-rock strings magnify the personal details. It's tough to look away.
They've always been good, but this is Manchester Orchestra at their finest... Ambition is great and all that, but without the ability to realise it you’re only going to be left staring sadly at the stars. Manchester Orchestra always threatened to be a truly great band but never quite tipped the balance – ‘I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child’ and ‘Means Everything To Nothing’ were good but flawed, and their shows sometimes dragged into self-indulgent meandering – so it’s a pleasure to report that ‘Simple Math’ is an unqualified success, the sort of record that will doubtless end up on many end-of-year lists.
The fundamental problem with [a]Manchester Orchestra[/a] is that they aren’t a band consisting of [a]Morrissey[/a], Bez and a tuba. Yet if you can overlook that, there’s very little else that’s wrong with them. This, their third album, continues the Atlantans’ slow but upward career trajectory to date, almost akin to an American [a]Elbow[/a] in that they’re grandiose, utterly lovely, but unlikely to sell any records for at least another couple of releases down the line.
Manchester Orchestra's 2011effort Simple Math is an epic, would-be concept album revolving around lead singer/songwriter Andy Hull's life to date. Which, essentially, consists of the time Hull -- in his twenties as the time of release -- has spent with his band, which he started in high school. It's clear from the melancholy lead-off track, "Deer," that Hull is angry, depressed, and regretful over most everything in his life.
Review Summary: Manchester Orchestra delight and frustrate with their third full-length.Kids’ choirs. Was there ever a time when they weren’t creepy as hell? It’s strange really; doesn’t quite make sense. Kids are cute, innocent, harmless. Get a chorus of them together however and suddenly the rascals will have you running for the hills.
What’s great about Manchester Orchestra is that they don’t quite fit into a box. Sadly, this makes them another one of those bands that don’t sell as many records as they deserve to. With whiny vocals, melodic riffs and stacks of power chords, coupled with praise from Brand New’s Jesse Lacey, you’d have thought their debut album, I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child, would have been the perfect proposition to put to the same generation of moody, moneyed teenagers who bought half a million copies of Deja Entendu.
Part of what made Mean Everything to Nothing, Manchester Orchestra’s sophomore coming out party, such a dynamic and attention-grabbing effort was its strict dedication to sonic theft. Absolutely nothing they did was original, with the Atlanta quintet plagiarizing their way through rock history, lifting from Bright Eyes’ hyper-literate folk one minute and Nirvana’s tuneful alt-grunge the next. Singer-songwriter Andy Hull seemed hell-bent on tackling every trademarked form of rock composition, and while that fact may have resulted in a curious identity crisis, there was a winsome, borderline tongue-in-cheek quality to the whole affair that seemed to imply the band weren’t taking themselves all that seriously.
As with many young songwriters prone to lyrically oversharing, Manchester Orchestra's Andy Hull has often been paid the loaded compliment of being "precocious." It's a term that implies unfulfilled potential. But now that his latest album, Simple Math, aspires to be a culmination of his prior two bombastically titled and performed LPs, I can revisit them knowing they were fully conceived steps towards the logical endpoint, "a story about a 23-year old who questions everything from marriage to love to religion to sex." In other words, a concept album about the experience of being Andy Hull, written by Andy Hull. But hell, if there's any Conor Oberst acolyte capable of making The Merrimack to Titus Andronicus' The Monitor, it's Hull.
The members of Manchester Orchestra have grown up as a band, and not just figuratively. The Atlanta foursome released their first record, Like a Virgin Losing a Child, when they were teenagers, kicking off their first tours at age 18 and playing to exponentially growing crowds. Mean Everything To Nothing, their 2009 sophomore effort, was a riotous, aggressive romp, with lead singer Andy Hull’s throaty screaming and half-growled lyrics signaling his violent surge into adulthood.
Let’s be frank – indie rock very rarely does any kind of actual rocking. Any band I can think of who has ridden that tag to some semblance of mainstream notoriety (Arcade Fire, Death Cab for Cutie, The Decemberists, The Shins) might have a bevy of guitars at their disposal, but that doesn’t mean any of them are trying to channel the Led Zeppelin zeitgeist, as Jack White is wont to do. No – indie rock is more about tenderness than testosterone, and so long as there is a Nickelback or a Hinder sitting atop the radio rock charts, the genre will continue to prize sad sack sensitivity over swaggering masculinity.
Atlanta band’s third album of melancholic musings contains some of their finest songs yet. Mike Diver 2011 Great reviews for their previous two albums proper haven’t yet elevated Atlanta’s Manchester Orchestra to the status enjoyed by similar-styled would-be peers like The National and Arcade Fire. But this new set certainly contains songs that are equal to the best efforts of those outstanding bands.