A Journey Not Soon Forgotten: Manchester Orchestra’s A Black Mile To The Surface

Charissa Lock

If this were a normal situation, I would tell you that it doesn’t sound anything like the Manchester Orchestra that we love and adore.  The determination would be made that the sweaty aggression, a reactionary outlet to the boisterous shredding, was not present.  The lack of systematic head banging and guttural guitar sound causes a blatant lapse of rock and therefore an album missing such pieces proves insignificant.  

This is not a normal situation, this is Manchester Orchestra.  I want to know why I’m addicted to an album that travels you down a slowly progressing rabbit hole of slight variances of immaculate musical moments.  My musical preference is getting my ears slammed with as much melodic noise as possible with colossal beats ascending up a deliciously overgrown path.  “Pride” is my favorite Manchester Orchestra song.  A Black Mile To The Surface is nothing like “Pride.”  Unless, maybe, you remove the exterior.

I say this because I truly believe that when someone has as much talent as lead singer/songwriter Andy Hull, there will be this unmistakable essence of musical perfection on everything they touch.  When the in-your-face loudness (which I worship) is quieted, elongated, shortened, and manipulated the magic of a band like Manchester Orchestra will still be there.  It’s in the clay, all those emotions embedded in the poetry and exceptional ear for composition – that’s what makes a band like that.  So whether they’re turning on the heaviest of distortion or lightly plucking an awe-inspiring guitar melody, there is going to be magic in the clay surrounding it.

A Black Mile To The Surface starts off like the typical album you would expect… until 33 seconds in and the album takes shape.  You’re one minute in and, my god, not what you were thinking would happen at all.  Yet, it doesn’t quite seem to matter.  The reactionary annoyances that perk when a band does something a bit different are somehow missing.  This is a whole new ball game but you’re comforted in knowing that what will follow will have to be amazing, it couldn’t be any less than that.  

I’m taken to somewhere familiar, like I’m back in high school listening to Deja Entedu for the first time in my driveway.  I want to drink this album in, letting each millisecond flood throughout my bloodstream.  I have been here before, as if I’m looking from afar, yet the feelings and obsession of wanting more are present.  It’s not as loud as it is deep, a hole descending further into the ground, seeing, hearing, and feeling below the surface of what makes a “great song.”  As you fall, you realize you don’t always need the invocation of head mashing to assure perfection, the beauty in Hull’s storytelling is just as fulfilling amongst the quiet instrumentation not normally associated with rock bands.  “The Alien” outro is a blessed affair, almost in whispers, Hull remains to promote hair raising emotion through this underground cavern.   As each song blends into one another in similar uniqueness, you’re dropped into moments that are happening that you don’t even realize are happening until maybe five or ten listens in.  The ones you do recognize, such as explosions in “The Grocery,” which allow for heightened vocals with mirrored percussion and heavier guitars providing just the explosion you need at the proper time.

Grab your shovels folks, you will need to dig deep so that you you can let yourself fall.  It will be worth the descent, as you find more moments of splendor than you could possibly imagine (“The Wolf’ vocal change on the chorus, the suffocating joyous emotion that stems through “Sunshine” both vocally and through the guitar melody, the musical connection to Mumford & Sons’ Sigh No More that I still haven’t figured out but is clearly evident).  A Black Mile To The Surface will be one for the long haul, I know this because I can feel it and for me, that’s more than enough.  

TAGS:  Vintage, What timeless sounds like?, Atlanta, Georgia, Rock Bands that Rock and Chill, 2017