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ATP! Album Review: Manchester Orchestra - Cope

Manchester Orchestra are a very difficult band to pin down. Their back catalogue contains songs as stripped-back as ‘Deer’ but also as punishing as ‘Mighty’ back-to-back, glued together by the rawness in vocalist Andy Hull’s haunting shriek. But for their fourth full-length, Cope, the plan was clear: make a heavy record. Last album Simple Math was, to quote Hull, “a different palate with each song.” This time around, the slower tracks have been removed in favour of sticking to the format; an ‘if it ain’t heavy, it ain’t going in’ mantra that has produced a decent but one-dimensional fourth release.

The differing palates were exactly what appealed about Simple Math. Hull’s voice is unique in it’s sound, in turns piercing and pained but never far from beautiful and understated. The result is that his vocals lend themselves equally to aggressive and introspective tracks, and no particular section of the Manchester Orchestra canon sounds significantly worse than the other. There are many different hues across their records, but they’re all painted by the same distinct brush.

This is the problem with Cope. There are no bad songs here. Hull wanted this collection to be “black and red the whole time” and he’s succeeded. But this lack of variation means very few songs stand out from the rest. Instead tracks bleed together, all following the same formula: huge riffs, short songs and distortion. So much distortion.

And that’s fine. ‘Girl Harbor’ and ‘Indentions’ are among the best ever Manchester Orchestra tracks, Hull’s delivery and melodies elevating them above the rest. But where on previous albums they’d be offset by an ‘I Can Feel a Hot One’ or ‘Simple Math,’ this time around they are surrounded by more of the same. The instrumentation and quieter moments were what made Manchester Orchestra stand out, but in their absence this record fails to distinguish them from many other rock bands. In raising their voices they’ve made it harder for them to be heard.

Given their intentions of writing a loud, aggressive record, Cope is a resounding success. Closing track ‘Cope’ is the perfect example, its wall of sound a crushing end to the heaviest album of the band’s career. But in pursuing those aims so single-mindedly, they have neglected the softer strings of their bow, and Cope is ultimately disappointing as a result.


James Tremain

Cope is available now via Loma Vista/Republic Records

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