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Manchester Orchestra — Simple Math



It’s June, and the early front-runners for 2011 album of the year are Tyler the Creator’s lewd/homophobic/sexist/angsty “Goblin” and Adele’s “21.”

I’m terrible at predicting what blogs will like (read: chillwave, Sleigh Bells), but if the music world were a just place, the members of Manchester Orchestra would be waving trophies above their heads for the incredible songs on “Simple Math.”

Songwriter Andy Hull knows how to put both the indie and the rock in indie rock. The two best songs each fit neatly at opposite ends of the spectrum, letting the rest of the album fill in the middle. Brilliant? Yes.

“Pensacola” is a rock song that would not sound out of place in the mid-‘80s (whoa, synth!), the guitar-friendly ‘90s (lazily strummed guitar chords played loudly? Check) or in the loud/soft/loud ‘00s (epic fist-pump in 3, 2, 1 …). Then come very indie-styled horns in the chorus, followed by ‘80s-style guitar work. The group-vocal counterpoint bursts through suddenly, pushing the song way over the top in the best way possible. It’s a thrill ride.

The opposite end is the chilled-to-the-max “Deer,” which opens the album. Hull is morose all over "Simple Math," even when he’s rocking out. His marriage nearly ended during the writing of this album, so it’s pretty intense lyrically as well as musically. But “Deer” is even more haunting than the seven-minute closer “Leaky Breaks,” because where “Leaky Breaks” lays everything out dramatically, “Deer” just exists. “Deer” scrapes the bottom of the barrel emotionally, as Hull quietly strums a guitar with gentle piano and distant synth accompaniment. His voice carries the whole weight of the album in it, and it’s a glorious cut.

Other reviews may rip through the lyrics (occasionally maudlin) and the bombast (“April Fool,” especially, is unnecessarily humongous). But in terms of sheer enjoyment, I haven’t otherwise enjoyed this many rock songs on a record in 2011. “Virgin” has a dark power, the title track has a memorable hook and lyric, “Leaky Breaks” is heartbreaking in so many ways, and on and on. It’s just a solid album made by mature musicians.

Listeners may think the naked emotionality of “Simple Math” is attractive or revolting. I think it makes the songs stronger and enhances my enjoyment. The sheer number of lovable tracks here makes this one of my favorites of the year so far. —Stephen Carradini

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