Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything To Nothing
This is the second album from this young Atlanta band and it represents a remarkable step up from the ambitious I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child. 300 nights spent touring in support to Kings of Leon et al , performing that album to largely blasé audiences led to a closing of ranks and a tightening up of performances. Manchester Orchestra are seriously primed for action.
As if in celebration of this achievement the first six tracks of Mean Everything To Nothing are a relentless exposition of articulate teenage angst. Tracks bleed into one another, leaving no space to breathe, no opportunity for the listener’s attention to lapse. Opening track The Only One swaggers into the room with some woozy keys and sleigh bells before veering off in a haze of effortlessly loose, heads down guitar riffs which take us back to a time when Dinosaur Jnr ruled the earth. Shake It Out follows hard on its heels and is a far more awkward and angular affair which puts the Gang of Four blueprint through the Mars Volta threshing machine. I’ve Got Friends captures the otherworldliness of Nothing’s Shocking era Jane’s Addiction. Add to the equation Andy Hull’s astonishing vocals which rival Cobain’s In Utero howl for their ability to convey raw emotion and pain.
Potent stuff, and just as the tension becomes too much to bear the storm breaks with the gentle, finger-picked resolution of I Can Feel A Hot One. In the blink of an eye everything has changed and Hull’s embittered Holden Caulfield caricature has slumped into a subdued, resigned calm. Where the listener was once battered into submission, now s/he is compelled into a rapt attention by stark, vulnerable vocals and a majestic, maudlin cello.
Manchester Orchestra are justifiably proud in boasting of the ‘authenticity’ of the album. A horrible word but the instrumentation and production are stunning in their organic simplicity. A rarity in the pro-tools era but the guitar actually sounds like it is driving white hot valves into submission rather than being subsumed by a cheap printed circuit board. In short, it sounds like an ‘authentic’ (that word again) rock album; take it or leave it.
The album ends in schizophrenic fashion, with the wistful, rolling verses of The River colliding with the brutal, staccato chorus which all but punches the unsuspecting listener into submission. They may not be a traditional orchestra, let alone from Manchester, but the name is instructive as they craft albums which demand your undivided attention from start to finish. In the i-Pod generation this may be seen as a weakness rather than a strength but, as the final chord fades into the darkness, there's a stunned silence. Like a Cadbury Caramel Mean Everything To Nothing is worth taking the time over.