Manchester Orchestra – ‘The Valley of Vision’

By Sean Reid

By now, it’s commonplace for Manchester Orchestra not to be a routine band. Ever since 2017’s ‘A Black Mile to the Surface’, frontman Andy Hull, lead guitarist Robert McDowell, bassist Andy Prince and drummer Tim Very, have branched out from their indie rock roots. ‘The Million Masks of God‘ from 2021 neatly honed in on Hull and McDowell’s narrative songwriting ability.

This time round, Manchester Orchestra have teamed up with filmmaker Isaac Deitz on a film project titled ‘The Valley of Vision’. While the visual aspect sees Deitz embrace the use of 3D-computed radiography technology, it’s left to Hull and company to provide its soundtrack. Furthermore, the band wrote the EP away from one another, describing the process as a “science experiment.” Nevertheless, with all that said, ‘The Valley of Vision’ still sounds like Manchester Orchestra at their stunning, harmonious best.

‘Capital Karma’ comfortably drifts in with Hull’s intimate vocals and tender keys. Its gradual build wraps you in a reassuring musical blanket with a heavenly tone that easily draws you in. Hull’s words introduce a sense of gratitude that is threaded throughout these six tracks. On here, he directs his words at a loved one, reassuring his faithfulness – “I’m in love with whoеver you are, Nothing here is gonna take that away”.

‘Capital Karma’ succulently melts into ‘The Way’; maintaining the sparse tone, distant drums tick along as you’re drawn into Hull’s hushed voice telling a tale of losing his way through uncertainty. It’s complemented by a soaring bridge, serving as an emotional release. With ooh’s scattered throughout, its build sustains with gorgeous execution.

Throughout their career, Manchester Orchestra have proved their worth when creating a compelling atmosphere to their music, and ‘Quietly’ is another example of this. It’s ideally timid, allowing Hull and company to paint a sorrowful picture of patience for close to three minutes. As the story intensifies with “two people gnashing their blood-coloured teeth”, Tim Very’s drums erupt, complementing the final chorus and introducing a rarely heard guitar in the process.

Minimal electric drums and atmospheric strings introduce ‘Letting Go’. However its tone, and occasional swells, results in the track being one of the weaker offerings. Whereas ‘Lose You Again’ is a barebone, acoustic-led number with tender guitars and pianos, and duel harmonies. Lyrically, Hull’s narrative is introspective – “I’ve been tired trying to chase your high, You’ve been trying hard to fill that hole” – as his plucky acoustic twinkles amongst a shimmering musical backdrop.

‘The Valley of Vision’ departs on a high note in the form of ‘Rear View’. Backed by Andy Prince’s brooding bass, Hull’s delicate voice gradually builds to a momentarily high-pitched shrill as he sings “And all this time I thought I was right.” Delayed piano keys add to ‘Rear View’s compelling atmosphere. It’s a credit to Manchester Orchestra that they use sparsity to their advantage, being able to create an environment that draws you in by doing nothing, letting notes linger.

By abandoning their guitar-led approach, Manchester Orchestra has crafted an EP that highlights their intimate essence with purity. The experimentation of “doing things the wrong way,” as the band said ahead of the EP’s release, Manchester Orchestra continue to evolve effortlessly. ‘The Valley of Vision’ is a welcome addition to Manchester Orchestra’s evergrowing palette.

SÊAN REID

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