Manchester Orchestra - Simple Math (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Manchester Orchestra

Simple Math (2011)

Favorite Gentlemen

The first time I saw Manchester Orchestra I was captivated. The group played with a passion and a conviction that I couldn't help but get caught up in. Even when the band was playing gentle indie ballads, they were full of life and energy. However, when I picked up their then-current album, I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child, after their set, it didn't blow me away like their performance did. The songs were great, but the energy wasn't quite there. Their next offering, 2009's Mean Everything to Nothing rectified nearly all the problems I had with its predecessor and ended up being one of my favorites of that year. Needless to say, my expectations for the band's latest effort, Simple Math, were high, but they reached all of them and then some.

Simple Math starts off on a quiet note with "Deer", but the rest of the album's first half is filled with upbeat rockers. The aptly titled "Mighty" kicks things into high gear, roaring along like a sped-up version of Nothing's "Pride". Andy Hull's vocals sound more confident than ever here, and are one of the album's strong suits throughout. Staying busy with side projects Bad Books and Right Away, Great Captain! has done nothing but great things for his voice, and he continues to stand tall as one of the best vocalists in the rock world today.

The band tries their hand at a few experiments on Simple Math, and for the most part they all succeed. The double-tracked vocals and horns of "Pensacola" are an interesting touch, as are the bluesy riffs of "Pale Black Eye". Meanwhile, the choir of children's voices on "Virgin" is simply haunting.

They also nod heavily to the latter part of their name: Many of Simple Math's tracks feature actual string arrangements and accompaniment, stomping along with Hull's howling in "Mighty" or providing the searing climax to "Pale Black Eye". For the first real time in their storied career, Manchester Orchestra...has an orchestra.

The title track/first single "Simple Math" is classic Manchester Orchestra, in the tradition of "Where Have You Been?" and "I Can Feel a Hot One". The "simple math–is how our bodies even got here" hook, along with its accompanying bassline, will stick with you for days, which is the mark of a truly great single.

Manchester Orchestra have created their best work yet with Simple Math. At 10 songs in 45 minutes, it manages to keep your attention for its entire run-time. There's not a bad song to be found here, and the sequencing is perfect; the album begs to be listened from start to finish. This should be the record that lifts the band out of "opening band for Brand New or Thrice" status and presents them as a force to be reckoned with to the world at large. It's impossible to go wrong with Simple Math.