Manchester Orchestra

Manchester Orchestra

"SIMPLE MATH" – MANCHESTER ORCHESTRA
A bio of a band and an album by Paul Feig


On April 1st, 2009, Andy Hull started to put his life back together.

Manchester Orchestra's new album, Simple Math, is about that experience. "It's the reaction to my marital, physical, and mental failures. But for the first time, I'm not blaming anyone but myself," Hull says. Produced fat, tactile and beautiful by Dan Hannon, Simple Math is Hull's third full-length LP with the band, starting with the debut album I'm Like A Virgin Losing A Child and then the follow-up Mean Everything To Nothing. Recorded at Blackbird Studios in Nashville and mixed by Joe Chiccarelli, the band kept the same studio set-up and production team intact from their second to third records.

Simple Math is a concept album. As Roy Shuker defines in his book Popular Music: The Key Concepts, a concept album is a record "unified by a theme, which can be instrumental, compositional, narrative, or lyrical." Simple Math is indeed unified by all of these. The instrumentation is big, even in its smallest moments. The composition is emotional and complex, expertly weaving music with story. The narrative is a trip through a man's brain, through his mistakes, regrets and realizations. And the lyrics, which take us firsthand through this life-changing experience, are poetic and raw, honest and passionate.

But Manchester Orchestra has always been about truth; about passion. It's why Alternative Press gave MO's 2009 acclaimed Mean Everything to Nothing (which yielded the Top 10 Modern Rock hit "I've Got Friends") a five-star lead review that called the album "a masterpiece of intricacy and honesty." You can feel their passion in the power of Hull's voice and the fury of the band's music in every track they've ever laid down, a power that wraps itself around you and demands your attention as Hull's lyrics guide you through the world as he sees it. "I've always had a clear perception of right and wrong around me," says Hull, "I've constantly questioned my beliefs, trying to find the truth."

The son and grandson of southern ministers, Hull formed Manchester Orchestra in 2004 at the age of 17 with his lifelong friends (Jonathan Corley on bass, keyboardist Chris Freeman, guitarist Robert McDowell and drummer Tim Very) and used their music as a way to explore the issues that mattered most to him, issues of life, emotional vulnerability and the human condition. "I've always believed in God, but modernized Christianity can scare me. I'm a spiritual, but not a religious, person. And I like to use my music to explore how that faith stretches and challenges me to be a better man."

In 2005, before they were even old enough to vote, Manchester Orchestra headed out on the road and played over 200 shows, quickly building a legion of loyal fans that grows bigger and bigger with every show they play and every album they release. "We wouldn't showcase for the record labels," says Hull of the band's early days. "We wanted to play as many gigs as we could and we wanted the labels to come see us live, with our audience, in the clubs." And the labels came. In 2007, their explosive first record I'm Like a Virgin Losing A Child became a critical favorite, the New York Times praising it as "Music to swoon to." Two years later, Mean Everything to Nothing arrived and was heralded as one of the best records of 2009, with Absolute Punk raving: "Quick note to the rest of the albums coming out this year: The bar has just been set." And now with the arrival of Simple Math, the bar has been set yet again. "The songs on this record are stories," explains Hull, "but more directed and personal. In many ways, it can be called a dueling conversation between my wife, God and myself."

The opening track "Deer" sets a simmering and descriptive starting-point to Hull's and our journey. It begins with an honest confession, carefully full of vivid detail. The lyric I'd go out in public if nobody ever asked perfectly sums up just how hard it is to lead a normal life once your pain becomes public. This is followed by the hard driving and rich Mighty, which Hull describes as sounding "like the Apocalypse. It's my darkest hour, in a sense." The third track, Pensacola, is a meditation on where the band has taken him and where he thinks he may be heading. "In this song, the innocence is leaving," says Hull. The raw and masterful April Fool is next, an exquisite dynamite blast of big guitars, giant drums and soaring harmonies that, ironically, "was my first attempt at a love song on this album." This moves directly into Pale Black Eye, a power-chord powder keg that builds from controlled discourse ("The song is sung three ways: Me to God, me to my wife, and God to me") to earthshaking confession, a rock and roll bloodletting. Bite your veins/ bleed your pain/ into me.

Virgin appears next, a four and a half minute rock opera that looks back at the road that led the band to the present. "It's a tri-fold story that parallels three 'firsts' for me," explains Hull. "The loss of my virginity, the potential loss of relationship, and the realization that our band has and will change after our first album. To all of these issues, the same lyric applies: It's never gonna be the same." It's here that the heartfelt and elegant title track (and first single) Simple Math arrives. "This is a song about an affair, non-existent but unrealized. I cannot hide from the truth. It finds me. The chorus is myself questioning God. Had I convinced myself, my family, my band that something is real when it isn't?" Leave It Alone next slips quietly (at first) into the aftermath, a beautiful yet angry recounting of a three-hour argument brought on by what five years on the road can do to someone. "I love the last line, If we end up alone, a plague on my head and a curse on our home. This song is my realization that there's a chance no one will ever love me like my wife Amy."

Second from last is Apprehension, a sobering, lyrical tour through the guilt, the blame, the questioning of who's at fault. "Not only is the song about Amy and me, it's also about several friends and family members going through a miscarriage. It represents that even after all has been mended in one heavy situation, life will continue to give you trials that require immense trust and faith in someone or something."And ending it all is Leaky Brakes, which tiptoes quietly but confidently in to lead us back into the present. "The final breath is essentially to admit to everything I've ever done wrong," says Hull of this final track. "The lyrics are so evolved compared to where we began. It's all here and ready to be confronted. It's up to me now."

Rarely does an album come along of such monumental honesty and vulnerability. The power of the music, the complexity of the songwriting, the opportunity to hear a band at the top of their game evolving before our very eyes – it all makes Simple Math so much more than a collection of songs, so much more than just a concept album. Simple Math is a deeply emotional experience. And, simply put, it is a masterwork.

The Front Bottoms

What can we say about The Front Bottoms? We know we love them: a punk band that uses acoustic guitar, indie-rock dance grooves, Springsteen-y keyboard lines (this they might deny). It's hook-filled… it's anthemic… it's confessional. Maybe Joni Mitchell by way of Green Day? They must have heard some Replacements along the way, and it seems like what Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers did for the Boston suburbs these guys are doing for Bergen County, NJ. But they still leave us scratching our heads. Just what the hell have the Front Bottoms alchemized?

With the wonders of the internet and their obsessive gigging, they are now known from New Jersey to…Spain (?) where director Pablo Nieto found them online and asked to create a video for "Maps." The video features Williamsburg, a farm (where Mathew sometimes works), and that aforementioned Econoline as well as some "loveable" hand puppets. Word of mouth and great reviews has them fielding calls from promoters all over the tri-state area.

New Jersey's The Star-Ledger called them "one of the leading lights of the New Jersey pop underground. The group's amalgam of punk, guitar-folk, lo-fi experimentalism, imagist-inspired poetry (drawing heavily on Sella's upbringing in the Jersey suburbs) and playful humor (that betrays the singer's youth) has caught discriminating ears on both sides of the Hudson."

There is an abiding circle: one where romance and tragedy exist together and hope coincides with desperation as a coil in nature as much as the unseen. In this understanding lies the dark themes and bruising medium of O'Brother. Carrying the weight of the luminance and spacey textures from their 2009 EP, The Death of Day, the Atlanta, GA five some have grown into sounds of scorching heaviness and punctuated melodic interruptions that act as puzzles in-between the groaning feedback of Garden Window, the band's debut full length.

"The more we played the more we turned our amps up and the lower we tuned," O'Brother's lead singer/guitarist Tanner Merritt defined the soundscapes of Garden Window. "The loud songs we wanted louder and heavier, but the quiet songs we wanted to get better at too."
Garden Window displays more density, as the songs themselves bask in longer time frames, a dynamic intensity had to be obtained to create interest from listeners the whole way out. "We wanted curve balls," Merritt explained as the root behind the softer interludes found midway through the atmospheric explorations.

The voice of Garden Window grew from the nourishment of the road, a relentless schedule that brought them to share stages with the likes of Thrice, Circa Survive, Cage The Elephant, and Manchester Orchestra. "Touring is your biggest influence. The way you play, the way the band plays, the whole world shifts to the view from the road, even when home."
Though Garden Window is not a concept album, reoccurring themes mark their presence throughout each song as a metaphysical question runs through the album's veins, one of life and what it is perceived to be. "If something is real how could you become so disconnected from it?"
As writing began for Garden Window the band decided to let fans into the process of making an album, giving them live streaming video to the demo, tracking, and mixing of the album -- a process that when viewed through a lens can be strikingly tedious as bands have to stare into screens as much as the faithful. New material was teased and brought out only at keen times, leaving even the most silent attendee guessing where Garden Window was headed.

Close friends Andy Hull and Robert McDowell of Manchester Orchestra stepped in as producers, creating not only an environment of comfort for O'Brother to stumble on discovery, but the two also served to help the band develop a more conscience presentation as Garden Window stepped into slow unfurling shades.
Always a band that makes albums rather than songs or thunderous quick timed anthems, O'Brother's Garden Window stands as a complex, yet elegant and elegiac, dance that can be felt beneath the skin. Even when O'Brother are at their most ethereal the reality of the ground stays in sight.

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The Blue Note (MO)

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Manchester Orchestra with The Front Bottoms, O'Brother

Friday, November 22 · Doors 7:30 PM / Show 8:30 PM at The Blue Note (MO)

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