REVIEW: Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God

Manchester Orchestra had passed me by until their stunning 2013 collaboration with Frightened Rabbit – ‘Architect’. Lead man Andy Hull has a unique, sharp yet soft vocal which sets them apart from fellow power-bearded, plaid-shirted heartbreakers, and it stands up front of a back catalogue well worth exploring. Bring tissues, the one you love and probably some bourbon.

In the interests of full disclosure, my brain once randomly suggested that Hull sounds a bit like Barry Gibb.  I don’t know why, not sure if it was an attempt to pull me back to Earth following this record’s heavenly predecessor, A Black Mile To The Surface, but it stuck. I’m hoping by putting it out there, I can move on with the review without mental images of teeth, tans and turtle-necks.

On first listen, album opener ‘Inaudible’ leaves me a bit ‘they tried but hardly Black Mile is it’. I held off reviewing the record until I’d given it more space and I’m glad I did – it isn’t Black Mile, and I’m not sure my soul could cope with that level of soul crushing again.  This is a richer, more rounded and more ‘produced’ record, I’m not sure that’s a great thing, but it’s where we are. The opener has grown on me over the week, but follow up track ‘Angel of Death’ feels more like home.

‘Keel Timing’ is a roller coaster, with ups of high-tempo disco-like drums, and downs of bass-driven whispers; already a live favourite in my head… my God, please tour when this is all over.

 

‘Bed Head’, the album’s lead single, carries on this pacey tempo and is a truly gorgeously written tale of realisation.  These three tracks in succession raise you up, building feeling with cacophony before ‘Annie’, ‘Telepath’, and ‘Let It Storm’ slow the pace down – and let Hull’s softer vocals pass over.

I can’t sweep casually over ‘Telepath’ without issuing a wet-eyes warning. It is intensely gorgeous and but beautifully simple, ego-free expression… “You’re the one I wanted, want now, want when I am old”.

 

‘Dinosaur’ teases a soft electro, almost trip-hop sound and I am here for it, and ‘Obstacle’ is complete joy, reminding me a little of ‘Wincing The Night Away’-era Shins. ‘Way Back’ doesn’t do a great deal for me, but oh boy here we go… ‘The Internet’. Like Black Mile‘s ‘The Silence’, they have left the best until last, so for the love of Lollapalooza please don’t use all the tissues on Telepath… It isn’t just the lyrics, it is more the urgency at which they are sung and the near-desperate build up of drums…you feel yourself exhale as it closes. It is deep, good luck when you go there.

 

This really feels like a mature next step for Manchester Orchestra, and going full circle to their work with and love for Frightened Rabbit, this feels like their The Winter Of Mixed Drinks following their Midnight Organ Fight in Black Mile. A journey, some standout, sublime songs but it falls shy of the raw shock-factor reality of Black Mile‘s perfectly woven lyrics and music. I desperately wanted not to make comparisons, but that album absolutely ruins me. I know they didn’t sit down to write Black Mile V2, and neither should they have, so please take this as less a criticism of this record, but testament to the impact Black Mile had, and still has, on me.

The Million Masks of God will be in my 2021 top five without any doubt.

Words by Lisa Whiteman

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