“Now I hope if there is one thing that we know
From the way that you and I will wander on
And we won’t become a lifeless lope that wanders round and hopes for sorrow”
When a solid band releases a new album, it’s hard not be somewhat worried. Will the album disappoint? Will the band even sound the same? Did they “sell out”? The better the artist, the more concerned fans become. It’s a plain, simple fact. And it’s no different with Atlanta-based indie rockers Manchester Orchestra and their fourth full-length album Cope, which released April 1, 2014 via Loma Vista Recordings and the band’s independent label, Favorite Gentlemen.
In retrospect, Manchester Orchestra had a lot to live up to given the success of their previous albums. The band created their first full-length project in 2006 titled I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, which fans still cling tightly to and believe no album could ever surpass, but with Cope, frontman Andy Hull breathes life into an album that heavily alludes to dark subject matter and transforms it into a mythical journey. As Washington Irving wrote in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” “A drowsy, dreamy influence seems to hang over the land, and to pervade the very atmosphere.” The same rings true for Cope.
The album kicks off hard and heavy with the first single “Top Knotch.” Holding nothing back, heavy guitar riffs and foot stomping or head banging – whichever you prefer – drum beats balance each other out to produce a catchy sound that may not be recognized immediately as Manchester Orchestra. However, Hull’s distinct voice makes its debut at 16 seconds, and listeners can breathe a sigh of relief. It is here the first glimpse of the dark theme of the album peeks through as Hull sings “All that I know, it’s no way to fix it.” With “Top Knotch,” it’s as if Manchester Orchestra foreshadow their entire album with fierce tunes and lyrics, suggesting that “coping” may not really fix anything at all.
The fourth track, “The Mansion,” lays down a mesmerizing melody for a story playing vividly through your head–a black heart, a trip through a graveyard, and a moment with the devil. Perhaps the song was placed close to the middle of the album to represent a crossroad. It’s at “the mansion” that the album lulls into an eerie lullaby, and Hull sings, “And it was just like you said / We got back to the mansion / Bowed both our heads.” There is a pause of reflection–perhaps a decision–and we all hold our breaths for the resolution.
Following “The Mansion” is “The Ocean,” where the line “I give it to the ocean” brings characters in the album’s story face-to-face with another element of the supernatural – a ghost. But at the story’s crossroad, all weapons are laid down and the next chapter is welcomed.
The album progresses to the ninth track, “Indentions,” which is another melodic, mellow tune that you can bob your head too. But, with each passing song, it’s hard to ignore the feeling of an inner battle of some sort raging on. With mentions of “God,” “crosses” and “devil” throughout the record, listeners can surely feel a sense of being on a hallowed battlefield.
As if on cue, the album closes with the title track, “Cope.” At the beginning of the 11-song record, Hull declares there is no way to fix it, and now, at the very end, he insists on letting go of the way we cope, so we “won’t become a lifeless lope that wanders round and hopes for sorrow.” The war is over. We must let go. Move on. Cope.
With running themes, allusions, and a distinct motif of the supernatural, Cope could have very well been called “Deep.” Thank you, Mr. Hull for your literary-esque album. Simply brilliant. For those with active imaginations like Ichabod Crane and the townspeople of Sleepy Hollow, the album will have you listening over and over again, attempting to decipher every lyric, word, and syllable while dreaming up different tales inside your head. And just like a classic work of literature, Cope is definitely an album you want to have tucked away high on your shelf for years to come.
Buy It, Stream It, or Skip It?
Aside from excellent songwriting and musical execution, “Cope” provides endless possibilities of discovery with each listen. You should definitely Buy It.