I recently got into what has become my second favorite new podcast Going Off Track (#1 being Ground Sound of course) hosted by Jonah Bayer & Steven Smith. The first episode I listened to featured Geoff Rickly of Thursday as guest whom I HIGHLY respect. He discussed his solo work and how nervous it made him after 15 years of having a group behind him. He also mentioned a phenomenon known as the “okay plateau” which, in short, refers to actually becoming worse at all activities in your life once you become very successful at a single task. He brought this up because although he was nervous starting a new chapter in his life, it also helped him break past the “plateau” of being in a band for so long.
After hearing this, my mind went to Manchester Orchestra during their last album cycle for Simple Math. While the album was in no way a flop, it lacked the vibrancy of their spectacular sophomore album Mean Everything to Nothing. It felt like they had reached their own plateau after a decade of non-stop touring & recording. Fast forward 3 years and the band has clearly regained their momentum to release Cope.
The straightforward title and cover art complements the musical theme of the album: brute strength. While the album let off the throttle for short periods of time, there is no orchestras or children’s choirs here. The album is bookended by two of the heaviest songs the band has ever put to tape and runs at full power from wire to wire. The opening track is aptly titled “Top Notch” and while singer/guitarist Andy Hull initially didn’t want the song on the album, it’s a great prelude to the album. The lyrical theme of the album fit well alongside the simplistically stated components as well. Andy deals with getting over and past the dilemmas of adulthood throughout the album.
The band also talked about the process of mult-tracking guitars to make a bulkier, more “live,” sounding album. The evidence of this can be heard on “The Mansion” and “All That I Really Wanted” where it sounds as if Robert McDowell and Andy have duplicated themselves a la the 1996 Michael Keaton comedy Multiplicity sans the each-clone-gets-slightly-dumber premise. The rhythm section of Tim Very (drums) and Andy Prince (bass) doing a great job match the authoritative 6-string attack of McDowell and Hull on such the fast paced “Choose You.”
The album does balance the dense moments with upbeat, yet still loud, moments such as “Girl Harbor” and the clear single “Every Stone.” Though these songs do provide some sense of balance, it lacks the emotional roller coaster that typified their previous releases. While late-album spacer “Indentations” helps to highlight Chris Freeman’s keys, I feel they missed an opportunity to turn down the guitars and really let the album breathe. Rather than trying to unsuccessfully compete with album-closing title track or the aforementioned “Top Notch,” the album could’ve benefited from a slower song such as b-side “After the Scripture” as a great calm before the impending storm.
That being said, one chink in the armor is not nearly enough to bring this beast down. Not many bands can come back from the abyss the band was staring into after their 2012 album cycle completed. No only were they able to get past the “ok plateau” but they released their most devastating album to-date and a solid offering of songs that stack up against any of their best work of the past. Capping off the album with the title track instills in me the same feeling Zach Braff’s character gives in “Garden State;” an all-time favorite movie of mine. When faced with the “infinite abyss,” both retort with a similar expression as seen below.