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Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile To The Surface

Discussion in 'Article Discussion' started by Melody Bot, Jul 27, 2017.

  1. Melody Bot

    Your friendly little forum bot. Staff Member

    This article has been imported from for discussion. All of the forum rules still apply.

    Before recording anything for Manchester Orchestra’s fifth album, Andy Hull aimed to deconstruct what the band was. “My challenge was whatever you’re instinctively going to want to play on the record, try and not do that,” Hull explained to UPROXX earlier this summer, “try and do the opposite of that thing.” Obviously, there isn’t anything like a simple “how-to” guide on achieving such a goal, so the band worked with multiple producers at various studios to create a record that could cement their legacy as one of this era’s great rock bands. And after a year full of obsessive detail, second guessing, and a grueling recording process, Manchester Orchestra emerged with A Black Mile To The Surface, their most majestic and challenging record yet.

    Black Mile certainly dials back the abrasiveness that was delivered on Cope, rededicating itself to the pristine production that was present on past albums. The record refreshingly begins with the quiet “The Maze.” But don’t mistake the lack of power chords as a lack of impact, as Hull’s vocals seamlessly intertwine with the track’s understated electronic glitches to create a dynamic that the album continues to build on throughout its 11 tracks. Much has been made about Hull and guitarist Robert McDowell’s desire to record this album as if it was a score to a movie, a la what the duo did for the 2016 film, Swiss Army Man. A Black Mile To The Surface has that cinematic aura throughout, as the album feels like a three-act movie. The album’s first single, “The Gold,” sets the table with album’s catchiest chorus while the shimmering rock of “The Moth” will leave your heart pounding. But it’s the eerie “Lead, SD” feels like a turning point into the record’s heavy thematic material. The song is incredibly unnerving and meticulously layered; a shock to the system before transitioning into “The Alien.” Gentle in nature, “The Alien” channels a Sufjan Stevens vibe while tackling topics like abuse – the bittersweet juxtaposition makes it one of the album’s very best. Lyrically, Hull is crafting stories from inside the mind of other people instead of his own, utilizing unique perspectives to subtly reveal his deepest fears and worries.

    From there we get “The Sunshine,” a two-minute Radiohead-esque number that somewhat serves as album’s interlude before exploding into “The Grocery.” Lusciously layered, “The Grocery” shows off how good Manchester Orchestra is at balancing its soft and loud moments within an alt-rock scope, while “The Mistake” is the best song that never appeared on “Simple Math.” However, Black Mile is at its best when it’s pushing its sonic boundaries, which the jarring “The Wolf” achieves, its industrial vibe (thanks to Tim Very’s excellent drumming) leads the way into ominous electronic flourishes from McDowell, creating a sense of controlled chaos that’s paced by Hull’s sprawling vocals.

    The album’s climax begins with the penultimate “The Parts,” a stripped down acoustic number that once again highlights Hull’s incredible voice. It’s easy to take for granted how excellent a singer Hull is, as he turns in the best vocal performance in his career. “The Parts” is the perfect setup for “The Silence,” Black Mile’s seven-minute finale and one of the best written songs in the entire Manchester discography. The grandiosity that had been slowly building up throughout the album finally reaches its logical conclusion, as “The Silence” expertly crafts its infectious harmonies before unleashing crushing guitars and clashing cymbals while Hull’s ever-urgent voice pierces through the storm.

    Sure, the record isn’t as accessible like their breakout LP Mean Everything To Nothing or as immediate as the aforementioned Cope, as there is more to unpack on this record than any previous Manchester record. With its cinematic styling along with Andy Hull deviating away from his autobiographical lyrics of the past, A Black Mile To The Surface will initially feel polarizing to the tenured Manchester listener; the album’s scope feeling more intimidating and exhausting than ever before. But it’s deliberate and focused, demanding all your attention but ultimately resulting as one of the year’s most captivating and rewarding listens. There are very few bands within the modern rock scene as bold as the Atlanta quartet, so A Black Mile To The Surface isn’t so much a reintroduction to the band but rather the continued evolution of Manchester Orchestra.

  2. Turkeylegz


    How did I forget this came out tomorrow? Awesome review!
    fenway89 and teebs41 like this.
  3. Guilherme Brandao


    Can't wait to listen to this tomorrow. All the great reception is only hyping this more for me.
    After COPE, I'm glad to see this guys got back on track.

    @Drew Beringer how would you rate this comparing with their other albums?

    Edit: Great review by the way =)
  4. Spenny


    Stoked to listen to this!
  5. CMilliken


    Enjoyed this review and the last podcast. The album is fantastic. Got my vinyl in the mail yesterday and has been on repeat all day today.
  6. Ska Senanake


    I have a boner!
    youwontknow and Anthony Brooks like this.
  7. Thanks!

    My rating would be:
    1. Black mile
    2. Mean everything
    3 simple math
    4. Hope
    5. Virgin
    6. Cope

    Love all 6 tho
  8. circasurviver


    Excellent review! I'm so damn excited to hear this.
  9. circasurviver


    My ranking matches yours 2 thru 6. So hopefully this will be my number 1 as well.
  10. atlastitsok


    I would rank it

    1 METN
    2 virgin
    3 hope
    4 simple math
    5 cope

    Also - I started getting nervous with people talking about electronic effects and polarizing sound and what not. First listen and I can't believe how much I love this. They hit me in all the right places. Could vault to 1 but will hold judgement for a min of 2 weeks
    teebs41 likes this.
  11. nalabird4


    The Wolf is unreal. What a band!
    fenway89 likes this.
  12. efp722 Jul 28, 2017
    (Last edited: Jul 28, 2017)


    first impression after first listen. Enjoyable, yet boring.

    EDIT: impression #2. Most of these songs sound like they would be more at home as the opening/closing credit song to a tv show or a movie.
  13. somethingliketj

    And that's why you always leave a note.

    First of all, this record rules.
    Second of all, I had no idea "Cope" wasn't so well received. I love that friggin disc.

    I'd have to go:
    1. Virgin
    2. Black Mile
    3. Cope
    4. Simple
    5. METN

    Y'all probably think #5 is blasphemy, I know I know.
  14. Transient_Hymn

    Somebody Turn the Neon Down Supporter

    Nice review drew.
    While I enjoyed the podcast I think your points came across better in the written review. Well done ✅
    Drew Beringer likes this.
  15. teebs41

    Prestigious Prestigious

    Maybe movie bc they are super cinematic but they sound more like they are a part of one long movie, it's super cohesive.
    Jason Tate likes this.
  16. marsupial jones

    make a bagel without the hole

    Pretty good record
  17. Ska Senanake


    Cope is so good. I feel it's consistent with everything they have done. Weird for me to say, but I really like all their albums equal for the most part. Newest album is great, still letting it sink in before I state my final opinion. My biggrst criticism is some of the songs kind of drag at times, and while the production is pronably the best they have ever had (not to mention the new bassists lines), some of the music itself comes across as more simplistic than I would like. Yes, they r going for an atmospheric vibe and its cool, but at the same time I miss some of the more intricate guitar riffs. Still letting it digest! A lot of my favorite records are growers so I'm hoping this follows suit.
  18. youwontknow

    If I smile with my teeth, bet you'd believe me

    Great review and loved the podcast. Nice work Drew and Jason.

    I feel so lucky that I just listened to this album in its entirety on quite loud volume on quite nice headphones ignoring text and email alerts. What a step up for Andy & the gang. Just incredible writing, production and concept. From my 20 or so years experience living in this "genre" and the like, getting married and having a baby usually makes your music suck! But not Manchester. Not. One. Bit. Gonna spin this a LOT!

    And touching on what Jason said about this album as it relates to the seasons - I think the colder & greyer weather of the upcoming fall and winter will likely open up more previously undetected notes and smells, not dissimilar to a fine wine.