Manchester Orchestra - Hope (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Manchester Orchestra

Hope (2014)

Loma Vista

Cope signified a definitive landmark in Manchester Orchestra's career. It proved the crowning statement that defined what past albums such as Simple Math and Mean Everything To Nothing built towards and culminated the years of heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears poured in by Andy Hull and his team. As an all—out rock band, dancing from folky to alternative to heavy grunge at times, their guitar—driven disposition often defined them, accompanying the soothing yet pained words of Hull. Now, with years of variance under their belt, a profound sense of maturity and a feeling that they've found their true sound at long last (and jeez, was it a fun ride watching them doing so along the way), Hope charters semi—new territory as a stripped down inversion of this year's release. Bare—boned, packing emotive content minus the electric aspect of the band yet continuing Hull's narrative structure of the world's weight bearing down on his shoulders.

The extensive marketing they did for 2014 no doubt bring this into the spotlight a bit more than anticipated. The Atlanta—based rockers had a heavy—rock vibe on Cope and while garnering critical acclaim, quickly flipped it on its head with an acoustic of "Top Notch" released. This record boasts different cuts of all Cope's songs but it feels more like an organic continuation as opposed to an alternate version. This track, for example, is slower, haunting and very bleak compared to its parent (mired with thick, genius riffage and a hard rock sound best suited for the '90s). Hull gets more time to shine on the mic. In fact, he's never been deprived of mic time as the band tends to build around his octaves but here, his voice swirls with such emotional turbulence that you feel he's really in his own. The melody grips throughout the record as you sense how at home he is.

It's a great snapshot of the record as a whole. The array of tracks are beautiful renditions that tie in acoustics, silky string arrangements, pianos and many other various instrumental nuances which all complement the grace of the lyrics. They accentuate the vocal delivery of Hull perfectly as he switches his tones to suit the slower and more dramatic effects. "Cope" is another great example of this —— showing the sonic shifts matching up with the narrative structure as if to emphasize the change is glaring yet one that doesn't feel disjointed. In fact, no connection's lost from the first version of the track. Fresh perspective is gained even further with such transformations a la "The Ocean" and "Every Stone" as the rock anthems meted out earlier this year end up more distinctive, more poignant and with an a cappella feel which translate the messages of hope, love, family and of course, tragedy, to full effect.

Overall, Manchester Orchestra's aura here gives the impression that they're in the peak of their careers. And rightfully so. Less loud but so confident. Moving. Jarring. And then some. Again, much credit to Hull whose novels make for amazing music but collectively, you can't help but appreciate the total package. This album ideally puts their best on display and no doubt continues their trend of big and growing achievements. Breaking the mold seems to be right up their alley and Hope shows why yet again. They love their acoustics and here's hoping they dish the same treatment out in full to Mean Everything To Nothing when they have some time to kill.