Manchester Orchestra – A Black Mile to the Surface

Their knack for the quiet and dramatic has always been present in Manchester Orchestra’s work. On some records it was rather underlying, while more explicit on others, so it’s not surprising that they chose to amplify it to the point of perfection on “A Black Mile to the Surface”. Carefully constructed melodies that complement front man Andy Hull’s extraordinary timbre, paired with complex, harmonic guitar parts and highly emotional lyrics carrying an almost unbearable weight – that’s what we already know, and what’s here to stay.

The addition of synth elements, however, benefits the creation of a somber, yet somehow content atmosphere, resulting in the birth of an abstract place you’ll never want to leave. You’ll find lyrics that speak in riddles, but you’ll almost certainly find fractures of yourself in a lot of them. You’ll find comfort, food for thought, as well as your new favorite song to cry to.

Unlike their former records, this album lacks a point that raises your feet off the ground, hitting your eardrums real hard, tearing out your heart. Where the previous ones grew loud, “A Black Mile to the Surface” fades from its comparably subtle buildups again and settles at a calmer tone. Less like a rollercoaster, more like a peaceful drive through the night. What some people might miss, I do not. This record is all that I didn’t know I needed.

Faultless Rating: ✔✔✔✔✔

Song recommendation(s): The Gold, The Moth, The Silence

Hundredth – Rare

Without a doubt – it takes courage to change your music style as vigorously as South Carolina-based Hundredth did with their latest release, “Rare“. Previously a band that would be associated with acts such as Being As An Ocean and Counterparts, their sound is now frequently compared to recent Balance and Composure and other rather shoegaze-y bands.

While it is a great thing to listen to on rainy, tired days -or really any day-, my problem with shoegaze is usually that, after catapulting you into that slow haze, it all just passes in a blur. You only started listening, like, two seconds ago, but the record has already come to its end and you don’t remember a thing. But this is the part where Hundredth prove that they are able to solve these potential problems. Their musical origins still shine through in the heavier guitars and drums, creating memorable riffs for almost all songs on “Rare”. The result is an album that, at first, seems to blend in with others of its kind: Defined by cohesiveness and not too many leaps out of the determined frame, you can easily lose yourself in this piece. Still, every song has something that makes it stand out, which stems partly from the hardcore influence, yet the newly incorporated elements play a significant part as well.  “Departure” with its high-pitched, dreamy guitars reminds you of Turnover’s “Peripheral Vision” and the chorus of “Disarray” will be stuck in your head for the next few days.

Speaking of which, there’s always a tense feeling when you don’t know what to expect from the clean vocals (which come with this change of direction). In this case, at least to me, it feels like the vocal and instrumental parts contribute an equal amount to the final product; something that is rarely found nowadays. The less prominent, heavily reverbed vocals allow the other instruments to display their versatility just as much as Chadwick Johnson gets to show that he can do melodic and quiet just as well as screaming his lungs out.

Both soothing and energetic, “Rare” is a very pleasant surprise in a music that is largely afraid of change.

Faultless Rating: ✔✔✔✔

Song recommendation(s): Hole, Youth, Disarray, Shy Vein

A Will Away – Here Again

I know “Here Again” has been out for a while now, but ever since, it has been that album that I’ll get aggressively passionate about, because I haven’t found a single thing to criticize about it. That’s right, I just spoiled this whole review, but hear me out.

The first track on the album, the title track, starts off with guitars that remind you of Blink-182’s “What’s My Age Again”, but you instantly realize that this is more intricate than anything Blink could ever come up with (no offense). And from that point on you’re filled with anxiety. You want the rest of the album to be as perfect as that first song, but you know that, most of the time, that’s wishful thinking. Not this time.

A Will Away have mastered the art of changing dynamics and tempo without it sounding forced. Matt Carlson’s vocals frequently switch from forceful to falsetto, and even that seems to be done effortlessly. At some points, you even start to wonder how it is possible for them to sound this polished. But right when your brain starts working out conspiracy theories, because the vocals occasionally do sound too good to be real, a song like “Into The Light” proves that there is, in fact, an edge to them. Incidentally, this song is one of those that I’d love to “scrub […] like salt into [my] open wounds”.

Moreover, the Connecticut-based band has managed to write an album filled with catchy, melodic, pop-rocky songs that seamlessly melt into each other, which would usually imply that it’s boring. Not this time. Every song has something memorable, adding a different element or tone as the album progresses. You could listen to each song separately and it would be great, but listening to the whole album just so happens to be 13 times as great.

Faultless Rating: ✔✔✔✔✔

Song recommendation(s): Here Again, Crochet, The Shakes… actually, scratch that, listen to all of them – AOTY contender alert!

Have Mercy – Make The Best Of It

Mostly, adverse circumstances contribute their share to an even better final product. In this case we’re lucky we get to hear the final product at all. When a new album was almost done, half of Baltimore’s Have Mercy decided to quit the band, which left vocalist Brian Swindle on his own. Fortunately, he did not let this discourage him, so now Have Mercy are back with a new lineup and a great third full length album.

The opener “Smoke and Lace” sets the bar very high, determining the overall tone of the album; a perfect representation of what’s to come. In addition to pleasantly familiar characteristics, it also adds some darker shades to the sound. With “Drive”, it’s like Have Mercy never left: The lyrical content is perfectly translated into the sonic component; you almost forget that you’re not currently stuck in your car at night.

In the past, Swindle rarely wrote any songs that werent about heartbreak, but on this one, he gathered the courage to amplify his range of topics worth talking about, like on “Good Christian Man”. And it worked.

If I had to name one thing that ties the whole album together, it would be the way none of the songs would be misplaced if they were played on a mainstream radio station, but at the same time you know exactly where they belong. This might stem from the occasional –maybe unintended, but still perceptible– allusions to The Earth Pushed Back. Some songs are surprisingly catchy, but in no way do they have trouble keeping up with the more intricate ones. That being said, songs like “American Bliss” and “Reaper”, which offer frequent changes in tempo and dynamics and keep adding to the instrumental variety, stand out more to me than the slower ones. “Ghost”, for example, is one that pushes you back into the tiring habit of having to force that tear forming at the corner of your eye back to where it came from. But if someone were to ask me which song was my favorite, it would be painful to only be able pick one.

 

Faultless Rating: ✔✔✔✔✔

Song recommendation(s): Smoke and Lace, Coexist, Reaper, American Bliss, Good Christian Man