Over the past seven years, Manchester Orchestra has evolved from post-high school baroque Emo Pop naifs to a viscerally muscular, Southern modern Rock force. The band’s 2009 album, Mean Everything to Nothing, drew comparisons to a pair of Southern Rock geneticists, Kings of Leon and Bobby Bare Jr., with shades of The Shins’ subtlety and Dashboard Confessional’s emotional bluster. Those elements are distilled into an even more beautifully potent brew on the Manchesters’ third full-length, Simple Math.
Frontman/songwriter Andy Hull has said that Simple Math is the story of a 23-year-old questioning everything — marriage, love, sex, religion. Considering Hull comes from a Christian school background and married three years ago, Simple Math could be a scrapbook of his personal turmoil, but looking beyond mere conjecture reveals an album of incredible emotional and musical depth. The Manchesters inject their subtlety with even more power (the gorgeous opener “Deer,” the heart-stopping 10CC-esque closer “Leaky Breaks”), while their Rock musculature has grown by steroidal percentages (“Mighty” quivers with the Stones/Skynyrd reverence of Drive-By Truckers).
Through a handful of powerful EPs and a pair of stellar albums, Manchester Orchestra has steered jaggedly from strength to strength, proudly reflecting their varied influences, but Simple Math shows them defiantly evolving beyond them with a rare combination of confidence, humility and true musical greatness. Grade: A-