My first reaction to Manchester Orchestra’s sophomore album, Mean Everything to Nothing, was one of disappointment, disgust, and disdain. The single “I’ve Got Friends” is catchy but far too rough for me, and in fact, the album as a whole is harsh and noisy. Upon fourth, fifth, and sixth listens, however, I started to appreciate it for the genius that it is, and it grew on me.
The five-piece starts the album with 5 tracks about the angst of twenty-something living and the issue of aging. The heavy first half of the album showcases lead-singer Andy Hull’s characteristically intense vocals, full of desperation and always shouting rather than screaming. He doesn’t let the music get too happy-go-lucky with the melodic piano throughout the first 6 songs, because then it would just be indie rock. The added grunge and noise deepen this album, leaving the listener totally aware of the rough, haunting emotion that Hull puts into his work.
Halfway through the album, Manchester Orchestra changes their vibe and puts in the interlude-like song “100 Dollars,” comprised of only a guitar and strained vocals begging to be believed: “I am fine. I am fine. I am fine. I am fine. I just need 100 dollars.” At this point, the album goes from twenty-something frustration to salvation and acceptance.
The second half starts with a slow ballad, “I Can Feel a Hot One,” which echoes the lyrics, “I said that I’m just fine” as a continuation of the calming acceptance that “100 Dollars” introduced. One of the best tracks on the album, “I Can Feel a Hot One” starts with ghostly guitar arpeggios identical to “The Funeral” by Band of Horses. Manchester Orchestra’s low cello line and strained, sad vocals make the ballad ever more like Bright Eyes, as opposed to the Nirvana-like sound of the rest of the album. The hard, driving guitars and loud, pounding drums remain throughout Mean Everything to Nothing from this point onward. “My Friend Marcus” and “Tony the Tiger” bring the album together as it winds down, noisy but showcasing melodies that jump and run in the best way. Through this personal, yet elusive sophomore effort, Andy Hull wears his heart on his sleeve with fears, doubts, worries, and confusions—impressive to put that all into one angst-ridden album.

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