Beginning with its 2006 release, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, Manchester Orchestra floored the alternative rock scene with original guitar blends and front man Andy Hull’s iconic high-pitched vocals. There was no doubt that these Georgia natives created dynamic music. However, with its latest album, Cope, the band fails to take advantage of its strongest asset.
At first listen, the album hits hard. Explosive drum patterns and palm-muted guitar crunching are just what any Manchester fan hungers for. Unfortunately, this satisfaction is dangerously terminal. The lead track, “Top Notch,” has all the strength expected from these indie rockers, but after a few moments of daydreaming, listeners find themselves halfway through the album.
The next three tracks, “Choose You,” “Girl Harbor” and “The Mansion,” mesh into a cliché culmination of sounds: driving drum beats; four-chord progressions on reverb; and repetitive, guttural screeching. These pushy tracks seem to melt into one. The heavy lyrical content, although full of substance, is masked by a full-force slap to the eardrum. Hull bathes his words in angry religious inquisitions, which cause listeners to cringe at the thought of being accosted for 38 minutes.
What this album does well, it does really well. Cope brings a force that Manchester could only dream of mastering in past records. Guitar licks are well-orchestrated, the distortion hits a filthy chord that makes listeners smirk, and Hull’s vocals soar. The harsh, grungy distortion of “Trees” combines an appealing wall of guitar slamming with the tasteful sound of the low register on a grand piano. Many of the tracks experiment with a breakdown far more brutal than anything Manchester has been capable of creating previously. The lyrical content and syncopation in “Every Stone” sets the track up for an extremely effective breakdown. Even though the repetition in vocal and lyrical content can become stale, Cope is full of catchy and anthem-like melodies. “The Ocean” and “Indentions” show listeners how hard Manchester can slam.
This album has a very high production value, which can seem a bit counter-intuitive. The songs themselves seem to be going for a sense of raw, unfiltered musicianship. With tracks such as “Cope,” you can tell it is much more produced than necessary. Hull’s powerful voice turns into an airy whisper compared to the backdrop of hard rock. His calm vocals take away from the unvarnished tone Manchester is going for.
Although it is respectable to try something new, a band once incredibly devoted to changing its dynamic throughout an album has lost its luster in this record. Manchester seems to buy into a concept of letting go of inhibitions and making gut-wrenching rock and roll. However, the monotonous, overproduced sound fails to adequately convey the image to listeners. The band has chops like no other and is not afraid to show them, but in Cope, this unique drive is blanketed behind an unforgiving aura of repetitive, tiresome and run-of-the-mill hard rock.
RATING: 3/5 STARS