They’re not a symphony of east Atlantic imports. For the uninitiated, Manchester Orchestra is the barely legal Atlanta five-piece whose faith in both their convictions and compositions has paid off handsomely less than two years after they began playing together.
Led by 20-year-old frontman Andy Hull, the band – guitarist Robert McDowell, keyboardist Chris Freeman, bassist Jonathan Corley and drummer Jeremiah Edmond – appeared on nearly every national tastemaker’s list last year with their debut proper, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child.
Built upon Hull’s evocative lyrical outbursts and lilting melodies, feedback-drenched guitars and a fiery rhythm section, it’s the sort of album bands like the Decemberists and R.E.M. could spend years working backward toward, assuming they could turn back time to sound impassioned and confused enough by their place in the world to pull it off.
Accordingly, the album’s virtues have resonated with audiences young and old, visceral and literate, impressing equally alongside such disparate acts as Brand New, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Saves the Day. Making the songs all the more intriguing is that Hull barely experienced the usual pangs of high-school life at all, choosing to focus on home school and recording at age 16. Rather than slouching through creative writing class, he was crafting a sprawling concept album that he hoped would one day serve as Manchester Orchestra’s debut. But as outside players entered the fold – pals Corley and Edmond were first – it became clear that what Hull had been harboring might not represent what the emerging Manchester Orchestra collective could be.
“When I was writing concept records before, I think I was trying to write for other people to learn a lesson, thinking I had something to preach or prove: ‘You guys don’t understand how much I had a great grasp of the world at 17,’” Hull says.
Subsequently, those offerings were pared and reassembled into an EP, 2005’s You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs a Good Editor. Adopting the title as a kind of mandate, the group set about achieving its unified aspirations in a more compact manner. With I’m Like a Virgin, they sound both assured and eager for unexpected revelations.
“I think [these songs] are about me and how I really don’t understand anything,” Hull says. “There’s a big difference between [ages] 19 and 20. These songs are a whole lot more ‘This is what our band sounds like and this is what we wanna write.’”
Fresh from a fall tour alongside Kings of Leon and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the quintet has quickly proved that the fuss surrounding their arrival wasn’t merely hot air.
“We need to play as many shows as we possibly can and just continue to have fun,” Hull says, “but maintain as much control as we can over our destiny and try to grow our band organically.”
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