Youth is much more complex than the scene likes to make it out to be. While the Blink-182’s of punk rock would like you to be believe that sex and dick jokes are the only things on the minds of a teenager, the adolescent brain has much bigger issues to wrestle with: self-awareness, the planet, poverty, hunger, and, perhaps biggest of all, God. Andy Hull, the leading force behind Manchester Orchestra, has been toying with the idea of God for years now. MO’s debut LP, I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child presented a hodgepodge musings about the nature of the Great Divinity as Hull sporadically jumped back and forth between unwavering faith and outright denial. The record set fire to the scene, creating a hype storm only comparable to Say Anything’s In Defense of the Genre and Brand New’s The Devil and God are Raging Inside Me. Three years later, we get MO’s sophomore effort, Mean Everything to Nothing, a dramatic, passionate exploration of He Who Cannot Be Named. Brian Wilson once said that he wanted to create a teenage symphony to God. Forty years later, Hull has done just that, with one notable deviation from Wilson’s vision; this record is very, very loud.

“I finally knew that I simply couldn’t matter.”

The journey opens with “The Only One,” as Hull sings to us about, what seems to be, his final acceptance of God’s existence. The track immediately extinguishes any expectations one may have about Manchester Orchestra. The quiet, thoughtful indie-rock of their debut has been replaced by a brash passion Hull has never possessed, that “I don’t know what I have to say but you’re going to listen” spirit that is undeniably adolescent. Hull’s new found friendships with Kevin Devine and Brand New’s Jesse Lacey meld with his admiration for indie-folk godfather Jeff Mangum and combine with a southern twang natural for the Atlanta native. It forms a unique sound, transcending three different genres while somehow maintaining pop appeal. The noise only gets amplified from there with “Shake It Out”. Hull’s vocals have only approved over these past three years, made evident by his goosebump-inducing screams as he attempts to shake out the demons that have haunted him for so long.

“Jesus doesn’t come around unless we pray everyday for 500 days.”

“I’ve Got Friends” shows Hull falling out of love with God once again but learning that there is beauty to be found in the here and now. Hull’s lyrics have never been more unknowingly confident before as he sings “I tried to do it all for You/You didn’t do anything for me.” Alternating between whispers and mumbles, screams and whines, Hull’s vocals perfectly match the emotion of his lyrics, making his record feel real and tangible in a scene that is often plagued by hollowness and vapidity. On “Pride”, the albums highlight, Hull trades his former conversations with God for monologues, commanding that God Himself hear what he has to say. Hull is not falling from Grace, he is stepping down from it and “Pride” is his angry goodbye as he develops a “habit” to replace God. The final section of this song rocks harder than anything you have probably heard this year. Manchester Orchestra is a new band and “Pride”, with its multiple sections and emotions, leaves no doubt about that.

“I am fine. I just need one hundred dollars from you and you and you and you…”

Manchester Orchestra heads back to their older sound for awhile in the third quarter of the album. One the depressingly short “One Hundred Dollars”, Hull finds himself lost without God, his voice desperately claiming, “I am fine. I just need one hundred dollars.” The album’s first single, “I Can Feel a Hot One” leaves a lot to be desired, as it takes the energy the record has built from here and offers a break from the noise. Even here, the Jeff Mangum influences can be felt as harmonic vocals and accordions create meld to create the albums calmest track. “Tony the Tiger”, the albums lowest point, even serves the purpose of displaying Hull without God.

“Oh, my God, make me clean again!”

Hull leaves his listener ambiguous as to how his journey ends. The albums closing tracks offer two opposing possible endings. On “My Friend Marcus”, Hull sings about his friend who was molested as a child. He blames God in a final statement of defiance, “Now I see, You mean everything to nothing!” but by “Everything to Nothing”, Hull has once again turned his affection back to God, finding that “I don’t know what to do anymore” and telling rebuking his earlier statements by softly praising God by saying, “You… mean… everything” and “You mean everything to nobody but me”. On the albums closer, “The River”, Manchester Orchestra shows a musical complexity that has never been present in their music before. In almost a hymnal style, Hull pleads for God to “Make me clean again!” The record is an exhausting journey, one that leaves its listener just as emotionally drained as Hull. It’s easy to try and quickly peg this record with all sorts of tags and distinctions but only time will tell which are warranted. Until then, I’ll enjoy taking the journey with Hull over and over again.

Overall rating: 9.1/10

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