Some bands can take what a quality, enjoyable sound is and rely so heavily upon it that it feels like it is being shoved down the listener’s throat. Manchester Orchestra has never been that band. Since their first album, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, Manchester Orchestra has been able to keep from becoming stale. This is in large part thanks to their frontman Andy Hull whose vocal range allows him to go from a passionate scream to a poetic whisper in a moment’s notice without seeming dissonant or out of place.
The bands most recent effort, Cope¸ is their most aggressive work to date, an 11-song, 38-minute album full of abrupt, unapologetic rock-and-roll (compare this to 2011’s Simple Math which contains 45 minutes of music on only 10 tracks). The driving force that is evident from the opening track and one of the best songs on the record, “Top Notch”, is not an unintentional one. Hull divulged their objective to change things up for this record, telling Fit4ttalent.com exactly what they set out to make, “something that's just brutal and pounding you over the head every track”.
“Brutal and pounding” is no overstatement. The first 3 tracks come out of the gate quick and allow for barely a breath to be taken. The driving rhythm guitars backed by the steady drum beat provides a momentum that the band only hinted at in previous outputs. It’s not until the intro to “The Mansion” that Hull’s voice and lyrics become the centerpiece to the song. But even as this is happening we are still provided with a foot stomping back drop of heavy riffs on an electric guitar reminding us to enjoy this relative scarcity as it will not be long until the band is in full jam once again.
Part of the reason why the band is able to successfully produce an album with such high intensity is the way that they have avoided such repetition on their albums in the past. Cope resists Manchester Orchestra’s tendency to include at least one or two songs which are essentially Hull, a guitar and his skillful storytelling lyricism (i.e. Mean Everything to Nothing’s “The River” or I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child’s “Don’t Let Them See You Cry”). This maybe be in part due to Hull’s two side projects, Bad Books and Right Away, Great Captain, both of which have released albums since 2012 that were almost entirely acoustic and lyrically driven. All this muted storytelling may have led to Hull’s need to fully explode in bellowing anger on nearly every single song on the record.
The issue with such similarity is the inevitable fatigue that a listener can experience when not given enough variance in sound. The reason why the past inclusion of more toned down songs was so effective is that it gave you a chance to miss the ups. This album gives you no such chance which can make the album feel longer than it is because by the end the repetition can simply become a bit tiresome.
This relative change in sound is far from the only shift happening within Manchester Orchestra. This also marks the band’s first album with Loma Vista Recordings, as well as the first without bassist Jonathon Corley who left the band to pursue interests outside of music. It was also the first album recorded in the band’s brand new recording studio the band essentially built themselves in their home state of Atlanta. Perhaps it was all these firsts, and the nerves and excitement that come with them, that led to the adrenaline filled album that Cope became.