When it comes to listening to music, some folks are drawn in by the lyrics, others by the music itself. Although most of my favourite artists are known for their lyrics (Patti Smith, Neil Young, Jeff Tweedy), I find that I have to be initially affected by the music before I immerse myself in the lyrics. Chances are, if the music doesn’t move me, I won’t take the time to pour over the lyric sheet.
Which brings us to Manchester Orchestra, who are not from Manchester (Atlanta, Georgia, actually) and they are not an orchestra, but a full-blown, 5-piece rock band with influences firmly set in the 1970s. Although Simple Math is the band’s third album, this is the first time I’ve listened to them, and they really caught my ear.
At first I had the album on in the background, but the intensity, musicality and pure energy coming out of my speakers made me sit up and take notice.
According to the accompanying press release I received, the band is led by singer-guitarist and chief songwriter Andy Hull. And also according to the press release, this is a concept record. Don’t confuse this with the idea of a rock opera….there is not real story line, but the songs are “about a 23-year old who questions everything from marriage to love to religion to sex”. According to Hull, “This record is two duelling conversations between me and my wife, and me and my God”. Pretty heady stuff, no wonder the music has such a “big” sound…these are big concepts.
The resulting music is full of huge, crunching guitar riffs, with many songs, such as Mighty, bordering on metal. But the best comparison I can come up with is Pink Floyd’s The Wall. Hull and fellow guitarist Robert McDowell play incredibly throughout the record and the songs are also shot through with inventive string and horn arrangements that will keep any listener on edge. This is prog-rock in the best sense.
Lyric-wise, Hull digs deep into his psyche; exposing himself and his relationship with his wife in a very intimate way…he claims he had to get permission from her before recording these songs. The end result is rock music at its most powerful, most inventive and most emotional. This one will make you rock and think and feel at the same time.
Click here to listen to Pensacola from Simple Math: