“I’m looking at my daughter and going, ‘You are so perfect and innocent but, eventually, life is going to happen to you. And there’s nothing I can do about that.'” Andy Hull says this with the same combination of sincerity and absurdism that he says most things, both on and off his records. He’s sitting next to his brother-in-law and long-time collaborator in Manchester Orchestra, Robert McDowell, at a pub in Manhattan and both of them are alternating sips of Belgian beer with surreptitious drags on electronic cigarettes. Hull stares directly at me and speaks a soft Atlantan drawl. “I can try my best to protect [her] and do whatever I can,” he says, “but the winter is coming for you, as it comes for all of us.” A gentle, overwhelmed smile forms in the middle of his unkempt beard as he realizes the weight of that line, the Game of Thrones allusion within it, and the size of the stakes he’s set up.
A Black Mile to the Surface, Manchester Orchestra’s fifth studio album, deals with this looming existential terror with a now-typical obliqueness. On one hand, it’s a concept album about a small, wintry town in South Dakota that none of Manchester Orchestra’s members have ever so much as driven through; on the other, it’s a memoir trapped between a stream of first- and second-person pronouns. It’s the most lyrically intricate and sonically ambitious record that the band have made. It’s also their best.
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