After three years of quiet, Manchester Orchestra released “The Gold” on June 9th 2017. At first blush, the song sounds like it fits somewhere between the sound they cultivated on Cope and the acoustic version of the same album, Hope. If Manchester Orchestra took a step towards Right Away, Great Captain with Hope it sounds like they’re taking a cautious but purposeful step away from producing music that falls more in line with Andy Hull’s solo career.
There was a time in the early 2010s that Hull seems to have gotten caught up in the various tributaries of the Manchester Orchestra project in an attempt to see which were worthy of becoming standalone projects. Between Bad Books, Manchester Orchestra and Right Away, Great Captain Andy Hull was busy reinventing folk/indie rock through most of the acceptable paths. He collaborated with Bad Books and Kevin Devine. He developed soft ~sad~ indie rock with Right Away, Great Captain. He took more of an alt-rock/hard-rock vibe with most of Manchester Orchestra’s album. There was a time when Manchester Orchestra didn’t seem to have Hull’s full attention and it’s been a while since the band dove wholeheartedly into the louder or angrier side of Hull’s musical creativity.
Hope stands out as an uncharacteristically soft album in Manchester Orchestra’s discography, but it seems to serve a purpose. It’s a signal to their fans (or it was, back in 2014) that Manchester Orchestra wasn’t a one-genre band. They’re a band comprised of multi-faceted performers and performances. They’re a band comprised of an amalgamation of albums, none of which fit squarely into one genre or another. Hope, unlike past releases, sounds much more like Hull’s solo project than anything else Manchester Orchestra has performed (their collaboration with Frightened Rabbit,“Architect” notwithstanding). The album performed admirably in its attempt to pull the band away from slipping slowly towards the sound cultivated by Kevin Devine and the Goddam Band. In Hull’s attempt to distance himself from his collaborators, he brought the band closer to his own solo work.
Speaking of collaborations: It’s a strange feature of a band fronted by performers who spend so much time working with other performers (Kevin Devine, Frightened Rabbit, and Grouplove to name a few) that the music they put out seems to revolve around a central core rather than sitting comfortably in it. “The Gold” offers an impressive foil to this model. “The Gold” (Hull’s distinctive voice and storytelling from RA,GC aside) doesn’t really sound like any of the various collaborations or side projects. In a sense, it reminds me of Radical Face more than anything Hull has put out recently. Instrumentally and lyrically, it seems to drive at the core of Manchester Orchestra better than anything Hull’s put out recently. It may be that with so many contemporary influences, Manchester Orchestra puts out a lot of music that serve as satellites around the signature ‘Manchester Orchestra sound,’ but if “The Gold” is any indication then A Black Mile to the Surface (out July 28) will be the bands first step towards explicitly and directly defining the band’s sound in their newest (post 2014) iteration.