Cope – Manchester Orchestra (2014)

Cope cover art
Cope cover art

While on the subject of Southern rock from yesterday, not all of the contemporary stuff is jangle or R.E.M. inspired. An emerging, but not quite obscure band with an ironic name has slowly risen its profile thanks to a energetic road show and a string of amped up EPs and LPs.

The cookie cutter suburbs of Atlanta, GA would seem like the last place for a band who pays homage to the English city of Manchester with it’s rich alt rock legacy to hail from. Manchester Orchestra bypassed the musical heritage of nearby Athens in favor of the more working class angst usually associated with that English city, but without any of the wit and camp of its most famous bands.

Not that Manchester Orchestra was a dull blade, their music was just so intense and serious on Cope. The band’s name attracted me but I can’t say I was disappointed with their straight forward approach to indie rock. The songs border no nonsense ‘man rock’, but mostly its the kind of indie rock that’s hard to find anymore as everyone seems adept at mixing multiple genres nowadays.

While you’re not likely to hear The Smiths or New Order in any of Manchester Orchestra’s music, they do recall a period of time just before grunge became popular in modern rock. Andy Hull, the lead vocalist has a distinctive singing voice and writes most of the band’s material. Manchester Orchestra has been around for more than 10 years and have scored a series of hits on alternative and indie charts as well as being featured on everything from video game scores to film soundtracks.

Their fourth album Cope may not have opened them to new audiences, although it continues the accessible angst of Simple Math from three years before. The hyper aggressive style of songs like the first single “Top Notch” or “Trees” are busy and intense making this great music for exercise. Manchester Orchestra’s sound could be described as Band of Horses on steroids, as Andy Hull sounds a bit like Ben Bridwell with a cold.

Unlike Band of Horses, Cope lacked any delicate harmony and melody. To amend that, Manchester Orchestra released a counterpart album a few months later called Hope. It had the same songs as Cope but with stripped down arrangements that showcase Andy Hull’s voice more effectively. You could look at the pair as a complete album with one side amped up and the other unplugged, each showing a different side of a band who up to this point was all about the trappings of frustrated indie (man) rock.

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