Ben Pratt

Modern Day Music Criticism Sucks

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You’ve probably read all the reviews by now and know the basic lowdown of the four piece indie/pop/rock/grunge/alternative band from Atlanta, GA, Manchester Orchestra (interesting observation #1 the band is neither from Manchester, nor an orchestra, why the funny name?). Simple Math, the band’s third studio effort, is everything (and more) that their previous two releases, Like A Virgin Losing A Child (2005) and Mean Everything To Nothing (2008), were building towards. The album is an essentially an open letter to the world about a young man questioning everything, focusing on life, marriage, sex and religion. Or to be less arty, more to the point; a concept album about being Andy Hull, written and directed by Andy Hull, featuring the rest of Manchester Orchestra as the supporting cast around him.

This third album sees the quartet embrace the ‘orchestra’ part of their name and introduce an array of horns and strings into the recording process, which on the first few listens seemed over-used, unfitting, misplaced and annoying. But now, near on two months since I first actually sat down and listened to the music (not just heard it), the strings and horns only enhance the epic, orchestra-like, alternative, indie rock sound that the band seem the be so good at perfecting by now.

Even after what might be the 20th listen, I still get goosebumps when lead singer, Andy Hull, starts off the opening track, ‘Deer’, as his sweet, all American, boy next door voice sings, “Half a year here you are again/I’d go out in public if nobody ever asked/I sit home and drink alone and hope that bottle speaks/Like you, like us, like me” for what is a perfect introduction to the album. It’s clear that what has lead Andy Hull to question the direction of his life has stemmed from a break up of some sorts. The song is somewhat of a letter, addressed to the one that is no longer present in Hull’s life, written over a 12-month period. Immediately following the first verse, Hull chimes in with perfect tune and timing, “Half a year again, now it’s a whole/February stationary from you on the wall/And I sit home and plead the throne to speak to me, to speak to me/Hasn’t said a single thing”.

In the same style, timing and feel of the start of the track, the next verse is sung with a tone that gives the impression of someone sitting in their bedroom, writing music to pick apart their brain and find some sense of meaning or purpose, y’know, all the regular arty farty faggy bullshit you go through after a break up, “You’re probably too busy with your work/Or am I just excusing you for leaving me alone?/There’s nothing in these wooden drawers to bring you back, or keep me bored/I don’t know what to do with me no more.”

In many ways (similar to Tyler The Creator’s title track on his concept album, Goblin), ‘Deer’ sets up the rest of the album and establishes a starting point to the record where the rest of the songs and lyrics come from. It’s from here that Manchester Orchestra take you by the throat and pull you into their world. Their world filled with lost love, confusion, depression, apprehension, happiness, adventure, over-enthusiasm, under-enthusiasm, but most of all; feeling. From ‘Deer’ the record goes straight into ‘Mighty’ where Hull’s confusion and and feelings of ambiguousness towards life, love and religion are probably at there most evident. Especially through the line, “It’s not like I was lost for a purpose, I lost purpose and purposefully froze” in ‘Mighty’.

So much of humanity spend the majority of their precious time here on Earth trying so very hard to find a purpose for all of this, what we do and why we are here. Often causing even the most positive, uplifting and optimistic characters to become tedious, tiresome, cynical, arseholes. A majority of these people, more often than not, end up getting stuck in a rut or, to paraphrase Andy Hull, lose purpose and purposefully freeze, believing that they will never find purpose in life. Or believe that there never was a purpose in the first place, which in any case, is a terrifying thought, and some people, like Andy Hull, may overcome by freezing himself numb – metaphorically speaking, of course.

Now, listen up here kid, ’cause this bit’s important and where the album lost me lyrically on the first . People need to learn that the purpose in life is whatever you want it to be. Whatever you want to do, whatever you want to achieve, is possible and in a fucked, compromising sort of way, you can take that feeling away after a few full listens to the record, you just got to believe in yourself and your ability – not some ‘greater purpose’. So, many people try and find purpose in materialistic stuff like expensive cars or fake tits or cocaine. Or their meaningless, pointless day job that they so passionately hate and does nothing but constrict the creative juices in the plain and boring walls of the inside of plain brick buildings. It’s exactly through reasoning like this why I didn’t like Simple Math on first listen. If you don’t like where you are at in life, do something about it. I don’t need to hear a record about it to make you feel better.

Despite the deep and thoughtful lyrics and nature to the record, I still find it uplifting, inspiring and quite a positive and beautiful sound. It is such a development and step in the right musical direction for Manchester Orchestra and, if they continue on the path they are on, could see them become the biggest player in the alternative/independent rock world overtaking similar bands, Death Cab For Cutie, Band Of Horses and Bright Eyes. Simple Math highlights Hull’s range of vocal ability and the band’s potential to move forward and develop as a group. If the first three albums are anything to go by, Manchester Orchestra are going to be a force to be reckoned with (oh, by the way, the average age of the band is only 20). If everything Andy Hull and co have done up until this record was in fact the reason why this record feels so intimate and mature, then whatever this band has in stall next time ’round must surely be something special.

Not lost on me though was Hull’s constant discussion about love, marriage and sex. I personally relate the themes in his lyrics, most notably in ‘Pensacola’ and ‘April Fool’. A line like, “I don’t care if you and I are naked bare/And wrapped up in the sun/All I need is one, one, one, one…” takes me away from the music and into my thoughts, my feelings and how I feel as Hull’s lyrics and the band’s beautiful arranged strings and grunge like guitar riffs echo and resound throughout my mind.

(continues overleaf)

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24 Responses to Modern Day Music Criticism Sucks

  1. Pingback: First impressions: Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts « Reinspired

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