Music Review: Manchester Orchestra - "Mean Everything to Nothing"

A couple of years ago, I saw emo veterans, Brand New, at the Ridglea Theater in Fort Worth. Opening the show was a upstart band called Manchester Orchestra. By the end of their set, I was impressed – these guys were good. Whereas the emo genre has, over the past five years, digressed into a cesspool of heartless powerpop garbage, Manchester Orchestra’s debut album, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, showed the promise of a young band that would, with some fine-tuning, blossom into something great.

Now, two years later, it seems that they’ve undergone that fine-tuning. In the hands of producer, Joe Chiccarelli (The Raconteurs, My Morning Jacket, The Shins), Manchester Orchestra has returned with Mean Everything to Nothing, a passionate rock album that showcases a new maturity for the band.

From the start of the record, it is clear that Manchester Orchestra has made many steps forward. Their sound has filled out – encompassing everything from 90s lo-fi indie vibes on “In My Teeth” to explosive, angst-driven sing-alongs on “Shake it Out” – and the songwriting is much more cohesive than in the past. But it's not entirely perfect. The second half of the album is not nearly as strong as the first. Also, while the first three tracks are all great songs, there is little to no transition between them, making for an awkward first listen. All in all, though, these flaws are slight in scope and don't plague the album too seriously.

Manchester Orchestra is at their best on dynamic, high-strung thrillers like “Shake it Out,” “The Only One,” and “I’ve Got Friends” (current single and best track on the album), but their soft side is also well worth noting. On “I Can Feel a Hot One,” singer Andy Hull croons atop a layer of poignant guitar picking and sparse percussion for a satisfying four minutes.

Mean Everything to Nothing is a stellar example of what a band’s sophomore album should be: a passionate product that displays a growing maturity while sticking close enough to the band’s roots to keep its following. If this record is any indication, expect to hear lots from Manchester Orchestra in the coming years.

Score: 7.5/10

So it goes,

Manchester Orchestra is touring the U.S. this summer. Listen to tracks from the album and check out their tour dates on Myspace.

This is the extended version of a review originally published in The Gadfly, a magazine of Politics, Philosophy, and Economics at the King's College in New York.


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