Favorite Gentleman/Columbia (2011)
It's not uncommon to find young alt bands testing their boundaries on their third albums, exhibiting growth through darker material and more-complex lyricism. (Recall Brand New's The Devil and God Are Raging Inside Me.) But Manchester Orchestra, who never had a problem emoting, have been doing that all along. Andy Hull's ragged vocals were made for anguish, and the Atlanta band have always shown an admirable level of creative and musical restraint, balancing brooding melodies and crashing guitars to an end that consistently articulates maturity beyond their years. Simple Math is a concept album that finds the 23-year-old Hull warring against God, his wife (on "Pale Black Eye" he calls her out by name, inviting her to "bleed your pain into me," though it seems it's his own blood pooling in the dark corners of this album), and, ultimately, himself. Deploying epic instrumentation, haunting strings, and Hull's signature vocals, Simple Math is ever-shifting, by turns swelling to great heights of torment and receding into quiet contemplation. On the most compelling track, "Virgin," a children's chorus joins Hull for the harmony à la Floyd's "Another Brick in the Wall," its ominous tension emblematic of the entire album. "Simple" or not, this disc does not make for easy equations.
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