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Music Review: Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything To Nothing

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I guess depending on how you look at it, the title of Manchester Orchestra‘s sophomore LP Mean Everything To Nothing can be super depressing or super exhilarating — either you’re truly alone in this world or you’ve finally realized to just not give a crap.

For the Atlanta, Georgia-based indie rock quintet (Andy Hull — vocals, guitar; Jonathan Corley — bass; Jeremiah Edmond — drums; Christopher Freeman — keyboard; and Robert McDowell — guitar), the title means both. The seamlessness of the first six tracks highlights one of the album’s two main stories. And no, this isn’t a concept album, but it’s nonetheless refreshing listening to music designed as a whole system and not simply a jumbled smorgasbord of bits and parts.

Even glancing at the album’s track list wouldn’t reveal Manchester Orchestra‘s intentions. The opening “The Only One” is a brisk, bitter, and surprisingly blunt ‘coming of age’ number that seemingly shouldn’t be the first track, especially with lyrics like “I finally knew that I simply couldn’t matter, you finally knew that you simply couldn’t matter.”

MO subsequently amazes with their stirring sense of urgency in the following “Shake It Out” and “I’ve Got Friends” where the combination of hormones, mixed emotions, and an unknown future lays waste to youthful dreams and passions.

Manchester Orchestra (photo by James Minchin III)Unlike their more melodious 2006 debut I’m Like A Virgin Losing A Child, Mean Everything To Nothing is raw and more ambitious in scope and sound. Much of it has to do with front man Hull writing from a personal perspective, drawing from his own experiences and memories: “I was able to be more honest when singing as someone else,” explains Hull. “Now I’ve realized, although it’s incredibly difficult, it’s more powerful to just say it myself” (press release).

The other band members matched the intensity, and, even when potentially marching toward emo-territory, MO manages to stay poignant while sounding mature. The ballad “I Can Feel A Hot One” is extremely heartfelt, pointing to a potential moment where a man truly feels like a man: “So I prayed for what I thought were angels / Ended up being ambulances / And the Lord showed me dreams of my daughter / She was crying inside your stomach / And I felt love again.”

This obviously marks the beginning of the other album’s story. Hull describes this portion as being “that things are not ok, I am not ok, and there’s a beauty in that — a calming, a forgiveness.” If life is a journey, then wouldn’t everyone share this moment, relatively speaking? Does listening to “Tony The Tiger” or the almost-title track “Everything To Nothing” really evoke regret or depict such low points in one’s life?

The latter story deals with growing up and moving on. Whether that revelation deserves praise or absolution should be met on a case-by-case basis. Manchester Orchestra has grown leaps and bounds through the years, all the while helping to make rock cool and relevant again.

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