Manchester Orchestra - Cope (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Manchester Orchestra

Cope (2014)

Favorite Gentlemen

Manchester Orchestra aren't that big of an enigma music-wise. They usually play off the strengths of Andy Hull's life-dramatics with bits of fiction strewn in here and there. They often manage to put out a hyped and great all-round product with their stylistic delivery coming off more cinematic than anything else. Amid these much welcomed theatrics, it always appealed to me how much they stay true to the artistry in their lead's mind. It's a powerful synergy and on top of the camaraderie among them, their dynamic goes a long way. It may well be THE key asset as to why this record affirms itself as a beautiful hybrid of Mean Everything to Nothing and Simple Math with much more musical focus and intent placed on the former. That in itself makes Cope an assured piece of music that's loud and pounding, but never too noisy or never too angry. Instead, it's composed as in-your-face and yet another personal testament from Hull that will no doubt send ripples throughout their fanbase. This album maximizes on their ability to take guitar-laden narratives and a candid storytelling approach to another musical level.

"Top Notch" is the best opener they could have crafted and one of their most telling to date. It signifies the model they've adopted throughout Cope with screeching guitars driven by an aggressive, hard-rock feel. In fact, there's a lovely 90s era rock-tone in the majority of tracks which hinge on morose experiences and intense narration. This focuses on twins with one being a reject and one shining out into the world to create a freakshow of sorts. With Hull on his A-game and sounding near-perfect, they pretty much had all the tools needed to make THE definitive Manchester Orchestra record and that's exactly what they do. Dallas Buyers Club utilized "After The Scripture" and that alone should have hinted how visceral and inspired Hull was late last year. This album feels motivated and a tad more mature but what grabs the most, apart from the frenetic guitars, is the tight, concise sound Hull and his crew tapered. They delve into a smaller sandbox, just sticking to hard-hitting kitwork as back-up and barely any keyboard interplay, to further fuel their rockish tones. It comes off much less indie than previous stuff yet simmers well. They don't reinvent their sound but you appreciate the subversion here and there.

Manchester Orchestra do manage to embark on typical threads and statements of Christianity and family but add new subtleties to their music. It's not as intricate but with more airy guitars and an expansive sound, they build well on the already established elements that make the band what they are. In this context, it's not so much that they played it safe but it's more about precision in musical overtones. "The Mansion" is a prime example of this sharpness as it's more melodic but still paves a little room to breathe. Cope is minimalistic to boot, yet seems tailored for radio-play, which isn't a bad thing at all. It helps form the directness that Mean Everything to Nothing shed a few years back.

Hull spreads his wings nicely on their direction this time around - less experimental than Simple Math but more exploratory in terms of lyrical content. Case in point, "Every Stone", which as quirky and poppy as it comes off initially, ends up barreling into another heavy sprawl as Hull exclaims what the last few years meant to him - growing older writing and becoming wearier on the road. "Indentions" follows the same pattern and flows seamlessly into "Cope" to close the record. There's a lot to sink in in these latter stages because Hull packs layers and layers of emotive weight in. These last few tracks are heavy on the heart and resonate deeply. All in all, Manchester Orchestra are fraught with reflection, soul-searching and a bit of existentialism in their music and here, they do come off more methodical, more calculating and much more meticulous, particularly at the record's tail. I wouldn't say it's overly ambitious but in its entirety, Cope is a loud dose of poetry which I can see stretching its musical arms very far and very wide. They genuinely poured so much into the album that you're left wondering, what more can Andy Hull write about.