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

The Wonder Years. Rock City, Nottingham, UK. 08/07/17.

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!

Interview: Decade

Three years after their debut album “Good Luck”, UK band Decade have recently released the follow-up, “Pleasantries”, which proves that they’re ready to leave their pop-punk past behind. Read on to find out what the present and, possibly, the future has in store for them.

Faultless Sounds: If you had to trade bodies with someone in the band, who would you choose?

Alex Sears: Probably Dan, our drummer. He’s small, but deceivingly strong.

Connor Fathers: I’d swap with Alex; he’s got a secret tail. He’s got a little monkey tail, he’s the missing link in the evolution of humans. He never tells anyone about it, though; he’s probably really angry I mentioned it. I’d just like to see what I can do with it.

Alex: You can’t do much with it.

Connor: I feel like if I had your body, I’d be able to do something with it. Maybe dip it in some paint and paint something.

Alex: I was going in low, but you hit the bar!

You’re touring with Counterfeit and Tigress, which is really cool. What would be your dream line-up?

Connor: Weezer would be awesome. Old Weezer.

Alex: Weezer, if they only played the first two albums.

Connor: Queens of the Stone Age would be pretty cool; we wouldn’t fit on that line-up, but I’d love to play with them. I mean, tonight’s line-up is kind of varied, too, and I think those are the best kind. Maybe Madonna, if we’re talking something completely different.

Alex: Or James Brown opening for us, if he could.

Staying on the topic of diverse musical influences, what are some that have had an impact on you?

Connor: We really like Oasis.

Alex: That’s not even a joke.

Connor: Yeah, Oasis and beer. That’s not a musical influence, but I think every great album was written under the influence of beer.

Alex: Dynamically, I would say bands like Nirvana, Radiohead, the White Stripes… When we wrote the first album, we wanted to sound like a pop-punk band, but we took more of our personal influences into account when writing the second album. So rather than choosing bands we wanted to sound like, we would just write music that sounded like the bands we actually enjoyed listening to.

Connor: Right. If you write music that you think will be successful, it might not necessarily be the music that you really like. And I think that resulted in kind of a strange sound because the five of us listen to so many different things. Our influences come from all over the place. Mainly beer.

As you already said, there was a gap of several years between your last two albums. Did you have any difficulties finding out what direction you wanted to go in?

Alex: It was more of a natural thing. We wrote the first album wanting to sound like a pop-punk band, then we toured it for a good while. And, naturally, our taste in music just changed. We were a lot younger when we released that first album.

Connor: The gap between the two albums was not so much because of a creative struggle; we were always writing; it was more because of contractual problems with our label that took some time to resolve and get a team behind the new album. We wrote about an album’s worth of material between the two albums that never got released, but we didn’t have the right team to release it at that moment, so now there’s a hidden album somewhere out there. Maybe we’ll release it one day.

Alex: It’s on my laptop, just sayin’.

How would you describe the sound of your new album “Pleasantries”?

Alex: The underlying genre would just be “rock”. Most songs have quite a poppy structure. We tend to write big choruses, but quiet verses.

Connor: What we really want is to just be a rock band, because I think the whole genre-thing, dividing everything into little subcategories, like pop-this and punk-that, post-something, all these little boxes you have to fit in.

Alex: As soon as you say you’re a pop-punk band that’s all you’ll ever be to people. Even now, we get people saying “pop-punk band Decade releases new album”, like, have you even listened to it? It’s not a pop-punk record because they associate the name with it.

Connor: After you put out your first bit of music, most people stick that label on you and that’s what you’ll always be to them. But rock bands, thirty, forty years ago, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and the like, they would have entire albums without distorted guitars and heavy drums. They were really quiet songs, barely any guitar at all, some keys or some weird bongos, but they were still a rock band and they played rock music. Rock has always been that all-encompassing term. That’s what we want to be. We want to be able to do a bit of grunge, a bit of punk, a bit of pop, some soft ballad stuff… We want to be able to move around freely, without having to worry about “is this pop-punk or what is it?”. We’ve got instruments that make noise. Let’s play with them and see where they go. Some people have woken up and realized that we’re not a pop-punk band anymore, so now they call us alt-rock, but if we are alternative rock, then what is rock? I’m not complaining, I just don’t quite understand. I’m happier to be called alt-rock than pop-punk for sure.

So you really hate pop-punk now, huh?

Alex: I still listen to plenty of pop-punk bands, and I’d never say it is bad, just a mislabel for our band. But if we’d never been a pop-punk band, we’d never be where we are now.

Connor: People who don’t like pop-punk will sometimes just not give the music a chance, whereas if you say you’re a rock band that’s different. Everyone likes a bit of rock, even the people who just listen to hip-hop. Everyone likes at least one rock track. Everyone sings along to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Everyone knows… that’s grunge, not rock, what a fake.

Alex: Don’t call my favorite band rock!

While writing “Pleasantries”, did you focus on what you wanted to evoke in the listener or did you just write for yourselves?

Alex: The main themes of the album are life and death and the way people fill the void between the two things. It’s about how people interact with each other, and also about how people contradict themselves; all the little things that we do that make us human. So I would say that could pretty much evoke emotion in anyone; I’m not saying it’s for everyone, but everyone is a human; everyone has those moments where they just don’t know what they’re doing and where their place is in the world and what they should do with their life. So I think it’s quite universal, in that it could evoke feelings in a broad spectrum of people. But we did write it for ourselves, really, going back to the fact that we wanted to write something that we would enjoy listening to. I guess it was a bit of both.

Connor: I think there’s only one part on the album that we did think about a lot, production-wise, not necessarily lyrically, on the closer song, “Capsules”. Over half of the song is really quiet, just one guitar and Alex singing. I always had it in my mind that someone might be listening to that with their headphones in as they’re in bed, last thing at night. I like listening to music when I’m in bed. And I had the idea that it would get to this slow, quiet song and you might doze off to sleep, and at the very end it slams in, full band, really loud, and it just jumps. And in my mind, I wanted it to be like a lullaby. I wanted the listener to have been put to sleep by some really sweet music, and then get woken up by this amazing moment at the end. It was the same with “Peach Milk”, it starts off slow, and you think “is this a Coldplay song?” and then, out of nowhere, this almighty riff comes in. For moments like this, we definitely considered the surprise element to the listener, and it’s fun to think of it that way. That’s the thing with albums that you don’t have with singles: How much can radically change in a 3-minute song? Especially on the radio, they don’t like massive changes, they want the same thing, so you can listen to it every day and sing along in your car on the way to work. When you have an entire album, you can do almost everything, and that’s a nice surprise for the listener.

Do you prefer playing the old songs or the new ones live?

Alex: Definitely the new ones. We toured the old album for so long and we just got so fed up with it, so now that the new album is out, we’ve got the flexibility to play that stuff and people actually know it to some degree.

Connor: There are quite high-energy songs from the first album; they’re all very pacey and fast, and that’s great, especially when you’re in a certain kind of mood, it’s great to have that sort of energy. But as you said earlier, it’s been so long since the first album came out, so it’s nice to have some more dynamic songs that slow down. You’re not constantly out of breath and jumping around, going mad. In a lot of ways, it’s more of a challenge to play songs that are loud and fast and then all of a sudden it drops down and it’s very intricate and quiet. There’s no hiding when you’ve got quiet moments; they need to be done right. Whereas with the high energy songs from the first album with distortion turned all the way up, you can be scrappy, you can make mistakes, and it’s just punk rock. And then after those high energy shows you come off stage and think, “we played terribly, but it was really fun”.

Alex: You have a good time, but as a musician, you feel less accomplished.

Some songs on “Pleasantries” are very poppy and idyllic, almost too good to be. How did that come together?

Connor: With “Pleasantries”, at least I wanted to make something that I could show to my parents and grandparents, as well as my most alternative friends, and they would all enjoy listening to it. Like Oasis’ “Wonderwall”.

I saw that your social media bios say “loud quiet happy sad”. Which of those do you personally identify most with?

Alex: I’m quiet sad.

Connor: I feel like the whole of that is one thing in a way, because in the space of three minutes you can be loud, quiet, happy and sad, or all at one time.

Alex: “Pleasantries” is quite manic, in the sense of loud and quiet, but lyrically, it also goes from one extreme to the other in terms of emotion. So I think “loud quiet happy sad” would be the best way to describe the album, because most of the songs sound happy, but lyrically, they’re pretty miserable.

Connor: Yeah, even our happiest-sounding songs have some dark lyrical content. I couldn’t identify as one of those things…

…because life is a permanent rollercoaster?

Connor: Exactly. And that’s what “Pleasantries” is about; that it’s okay to be that way. You know, when someone describes a person and says “oh, that guy is always really smiley and happy”; I don’t think anyone is always really happy. So I think those four words sum up the album in its entirety.

Leaving aside your own album, which release are you most looking forward to this year (or were, if it’s already out)?

Connor: Manchester Orchestra have been in the studio for quite a while, I think they’re releasing an album this year and I’m really excited for that.

Alex: Our friends in a band called Wallflower, who we just toured with in the UK, are releasing a new EP. We’ve already heard it and it’s great, but I can’t wait to see how people receive it.

To wrap things up: What decade do you wish you were born in?

Alex: I wish I was born in the sixties.

Connor: I wish I was born in the fifties. My dad was born in 1950 and he told me a lot about growing up at that time; it must’ve been amazing to live through humans landing on the moon, and everything that happened around the Vietnam War and the Cold War era. I’m obviously not interested in the war side of it, but the hippie movement that came out of it, and the explosion of music in the fifties, sixties, seventies… I know I listed three decades there, but that’s why I would have liked to be born in the fifties, so that I could have lived through those decades.

Alex: I also think I would’ve liked to have been born earlier in the eighties, so I could have seen Oasis and Nirvana play.

Connor: What would you choose? Would you go back to, like, dinosaurs?

Alex: What use would that be? You couldn’t even post it on Instagram, so you would be like “I’ve just seen a dinosaur, but I can’t prove it!”

No, I would probably choose the seventies or eighties, too.

Alex: I was actually born in the eighties, I lived about six months in the eighties, so I can’t really claim to be an eighties’ kid. I would have been, like, five or six years old, when Nirvana were at their prime.

 

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