Simple Math is the third full-length release from Manchester Orchestra, who are neither from Manchester, nor an orchestra. Totally deceptive, gentlemen.
The production values for each of their three albums have very different feels about them. I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child has an antiquated or throwback feel to it, one that matches its sepia-toned album cover. The album that brought MO to the spotlight, Mean Everything to Nothing, was more polished, the songs more upbeat. But the Atlanta-based non-orchestra take Simple Math to uncharted realms.
Simply put, Simple Math is, at times, pretty damn dark, both lyrically and musically. Especially the second half of the album – some of the songs are downright unrecognizable as MO tunes.
“Deer” kicks us off and as one review that I read put it, lead vocalist Andy Hull’s lyrics and singing voice sound like he’s drunk off his keister. It’s a stripped down, acousticy track (i.e., no drums, but not an acoustic guitar) – a pleasant stupor, of sorts.
“Mighty” is a wavering and quite angry tune. “Pensacola” sounds like a fun drinking song.
But then “April Fool” comes around (track 4, too- like the month. Clever, if intentional.) and PLEASE: no more. NHL 12, the annual entry in the popular EA hockey series, featured a soundtrack of just 14 songs. They get played on loading screens, in between periods and as background music for the game’s menus.
“April Fool” was one of the 14 songs from that soundtrack that I never want to hear again. In its defense, it’s a super catchy song, but if I have to listen to it one more time I may vomit.
“Pale Black Eye” is another pretty decent tune, what with its catchy organ, but the chorus is pre-chorus and chorus get to be grating by the end of the song.
Then, MO take Simple Math to a darker place. “Virgin” is heavy, with a children’s chorus providing backing vocals. Children choruses are much like clowns – they mean well, but they just come off as creepy.
The title track of the album, “Simple Math,” is a slow-burn, and one of the cooler music videos you’ll ever see. It’s one of the standout tunes on the album for sure.
“Leave It Alone” again plays into the trying chorus. I don’t know if it’s annoying because I’ve heard it too many times (possible?), or if it’s just that typical repeated choruses are aggravating to me.
“Apprehension” is another builder of a track like the title-tune, with some southern-influenced guitar work. “Leaky Breaks” closes Simple Math, but at 7 minutes long the song feels like it drags and drags.
This album was a grower for me. The first listen through didn’t mesh well with me at all (outside of the lead single, “Simple Math”), but I have gained an appreciation for it since then. It’s certainly not my favorite MO album by any stretch.
I’ve read that the band will be shifting gears for their next release, possibly including a name change, and trying to write heavier music. That desire is evident on several of the tracks on Simple Math, primarily “April Fool” and “Mighty.” I think that might actually be a welcome change-up for the band, due largely to the fact that Hull’s voice sounds like it would be accommodating to post-hardcore or whatever.
Standout tracks: “Deer” and “Pensacola”
Weakest track: “April Fool” – kill it with fire.
RIYL: Indie rock, alt-rock. Bad Books, Kevin Devine, Brand New, Colour Revolt, All Get Out. Favorite Gentlemen releases.