Manchester Orchestra - Cope | Album Review | By Volume

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Manchester Orchestra


More might, more passion, more volume. Less effective.

Comments (2)
Author: on March 27, 2014
Loma Vista / Favorite Gentlemen

There’s no “I Can Feel A Hot One” on Cope. It starts heavy and it finishes heavy, pounding drums and blazing atmosphere from top to bottom. It’s the album that Manchester Orchestra have been threatening to make since Mean Everything To Nothing‘s cataclysmic riffs underpinned Andy Hull’s smoky philosophical quips. The band’s vocalist says that Cope is a conscious effort to construct something that feels entirely “red and black” — an interesting thought given Hull’s role on the Red EP of The Dear Hunter’s The Color Spectrum, a performance which arguably placed his main project’s aesthetic in context and highlighted its frequent rawness and ever-present spirit. Manchester Orchestra feel much the same as ever – weighty, imposing indie rock with a strikingly impassioned vocalist. For all the bluster, though, Cope doesn’t feel like it ever hits the overdrive it pretends to. Nobody ever noticed a fire in a collapsing building.

“The invention of the ship was the invention of the shipwreck”, Hull ponders on “Choose You”, as the same driving aggression that fueled Simple Math‘s most fist-clenching moments takes up its mantle for the second track in a row. It feels oddly foreboding, one of those lyrical moments that inevitably reflects on the album it graces. From a perspective that argues Simple Math‘s place as reigning magnum opus in Manchester Orchestra’s catalog, Cope feels oddly separable from the arc that saw the band move from indie craftsmen to a muscle-laden outfit, writing songs as simultaneously pristine and gritty as “Simple Math”. When that title track was released, it felt pivotal and colossal; the truth is that nothing on Cope takes its time enough to develop that sort of gravitational pull.

This all sounds very negative, but Cope is a genuinely heartfelt and satisfying record, one with an abundance of tender lines and stupidly lovely melodies. The guitars crunch and Hull sounds like he’s conducting an inferno with his words on songs like “All I Really Wanted”; there’s no shortage of those decidedly punchy sonic components within this album. The move away from slower, gentler songwriting is unlikely to be permanent, and isn’t in itself a misstep — Manchester Orchestra do rock very well, and always have. To claim that Cope is the band at their heaviest would be pretending, though. “Mighty” has too much aggression and rage to feel comfortable here, even alongside tracks like “Every Stone” and “Top Notch”, which could be posited as pop songs in rock clothing (not that this is a slight.)

The contrast is about more than whether the punches match up for size, though. “Leave It Alone”, Simple Math‘s climactic cut morphed into an emotional and musical bulldozer in its closing stages as a fragile tempo turned thundering. Cope‘s subtlety is far less subtle; Hull begins these tracks pensive frequently enough, but it’s never a convincing guise, and as such the songs blend together. On the fantastic title track, Hull sings, “And I hope if there is one thing I let go, it is the way that we cope.” Those italics reflect a real vitriol in his voice with a power that, for all the volume and shouting present, Cope rarely approaches.

In a way, it’s beautiful how much this album manages to feel cohesive. It weaves little corners of intrigue, but too often the overdriven guitars or Hull’s new tendency for stretching out syllables are the main talking point. And after ten or so occurrences, those motifs become much less satisfying. In ways, Cope can be perceived as a transitional record for Manchester Orchestra, but it doesn’t feel like it needed to be; there’s no growth to be found here, and so any transition is from Manchester Orchestra learning what doesn’t work. The truth is that they’re a band who can do, and have often done, much better than a collection of similarly-tempo’d rock songs with drawn-out, admittedly beautiful hooks and dramatic lyrical themes. Cope is a beautiful building to watch collapse, but when the smoke clears, you realise it was nobody’s home.

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  • Mike Allen

    I haven’t listened to this enough to form a complete perspective on the album, but something that has bothered me a bit so far are Hull’s vocals. His vocal outbursts made METN and even Simple Math seem more volatile at their “heaviest” moments. METN is their perfect rock record due in large part to this (Shake it Out, I Got Friends, Pride). I just don’t see the same potency from what I believe is one of the band’s greatest strengths. Not that anything here is bad, but I think they fell a bit short of executing here.

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