best of 2017: manchester orchestra "a black mile to the surface"


I remember the first time I saw Manchester Orchestra live. I hadn’t heard of them yet at the ripe age of 16 when I ventured to a free festival in Atlanta. It was an excruciatingly hot summer day. I’ll never forget those moments of finding bliss in a crowd of quavering mischiefs. After all these years, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve seen these emo instrumentalists perform.

It’s been a long road for the native Atlanta rockers, led by singer-songwriter Andy Hull, after several melancholy albums that would enthrall their rabid fan base on the daily. The years go on, but one truth reigns: Manchester Orchestra continuously saves me from the depths of reality. We can all agree that 2017 was filled with endless horrible mishaps and overwhelming chaos, but the follow up to 2013’s Cope ushered in a sense of solace amidst the mayhem that was consuming us all.

I was a bit concerned when long-time multi-instrumentalist Chris Freeman parted ways with the band, but A Black Mile to the Surface proved that the world is not ending. Manchester Orchestra can still put out an amazing album.

The album takes a step away from the heaviness of Cope, while still providing hard-hitting rhythms (“The Gold,” “The Moth”). A Black Mile to the Surface unloads a new dialogue of storytelling throughout the track list, mixing high emotions within multi-layered fuzzy guitar riffs and melodious piano tracks. Hull does it again with breathtaking melodies that gorgeously intertwine romance and heartache.

A Black Mile to the Surface is a true blessing to add to Manchester’s continuing discography. It’s hard to compete with their top hits such as “Shake it Off” and the splendidly sad “I Can Feel A Hot One,” but to say this album is as brilliant as their older work would be an understatement. Fans come to their shows to hear those hits that have stayed with them throughout changes and constant growth, and now we have more of those songs to be obsessed with new storytelling and lingering heartfelt magnitude. Manchester Orchestra has proven themselves long-lasting and dynamic, while still retaining their signature emo rock sound.

The world changes. People come and go. But the blissful artistry that Manchester Orchestra continues to deliver over the years is still alive and well. A Black Mile to the Surface was that grand reminder that 2017 deeply needed. With five studio albums under Manchester’s belt, it’s only up from here in 2018.

Illustration by Sarah Crawford, based on Manchester Orchestra's album art.