A Black Mile To The Surface (2017) is the fifth studio album by Atlanta natives Manchester Orchestra, marking their return following the success of their previous two albums, Simple Math (2011), which helped them catapult into the mainstream, and Cope (2014).
The album references DUNE (the Deep Underground Neutrino Experiment), a scientific international effort to understand the role of neutrinos in our Universe. The title references the project, which takes place a whole mile underground below Lead, in South Dakota. This, as much as it isn’t a “concept” to the album, is important to the resulting sound of it.
Manchester Orchestra display a more cinematic, ample sound than their previous efforts. This means wide, empty spaces and powerful, claustrophobic phases in between. Frontman Andy Hull‘s and guitarist Robert McDowell‘s foray into cinema scoring Swiss Army Man (2016) may have contributed to their newfound cinematic perspective.
The songwriting on ABMTTS, as validated by Brand New‘s Jesse Lacey‘s recognition, is probably Andy Hull‘s best yet. The instrumentation is a step away from 2014’s Cope and closer to 2011’s Simple Math, which turns the spotlight to the words and the story. And, although diving deep into the lyrics makes for a more complete experience, it is not completely necessary in order to appreciate what the band has achieved here.
Sonically, the album seems to pay homage to the band’s close inspirations. “The Grocery” can be any My Morning Jacket hit, while “The Moth” seems taken out of a Mew album or an early Radiohead verse. Dark passages remind us of their friendship with O’Brother and Brand New.
A Black Mile to the Surface is a definition of the dynamics that rock music embraces. It is waves, an ebb and flow, a push and a pull between four strong forces, cemented by a central figure in Hull. Every element is well thought of, and even boasts conversations and hidden instruments deep within the production. This is not a hit album, but it is a damn intelligent one. And masterfully executed, as well. A definite must-listen.
Listen to A Black Mile to the Surface on Spotify.