On their fourth album, this Atlanta quintet takes everything that you thought you knew about their music (at least what they have on their previous records), and turns it right on its head and takes you down a much darker and heavier path than you thought this band could do. But if you know anything about this band’s live shows or you’ve seen the energy that Andy Hull and company bring whenever they play live the sound of COPE isn’t quite so far out there. Hull and lead guitarist Robert McDowell have said that Cope was written to “capture the energy of our live shows” and “Our mission statement was to make a crazy-loud rock record. Something that’s just brutal and pounding you over the head with every track, something unrelenting and unapologetic.” And man, did they succeed at making a crazy loud rock record.
From the first guitar strums in opening track “Top Notch,” Manchester orchestra sets the pace and tone for the next 38 minutes. The songs are relatively simple, but they’re incredibly densely layered and, as said before, HEAVY. McDowell and Hull achieved such a massive sound by recording upwards of 8 guitar tracks per song, many of which were the same part with different tones. This helps to both make the record sound massive and guitar heavy yet also maintain an organic sound. Lyrically Hull is as sound as ever, crafting songs that are really catchy and easy to scream (note I said scream, not sing, cause LOUD), along to, but also touch on dark or introspective topics (“Top Notch” is about two people trapped in a house during a fire, and “Cope,” the title track, deals with the way that people deal with issues in life). Whereas their last release Simple Math rarely had a chorus that repeated itself, COPE finds the band crafting 11 songs that will have you singing along with them by the second play through.
By the time the album finally takes a moment to breathe and step back from the pummeling, at around track 9 (“Indentions”), as a listener I’m almost exhausted. While Manchester Orchestra is known for using a lot of dynamics in their songs, evoking the Pixies or early Nirvana, This album keeps you waiting for the quiet introspective part. Even then its kind of brief, and “Indentions” quickly bounces back into the high energy of the other songs on the album. The fact that the whole album is basically loud isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the fact that the album is relatively brief probably helps the casual listener from getting bored.
That being said, COPE is still a great effort. Its one of very few albums that I get to the end of that I immediately want to start again from the top and see what different things stand out. It’s hard for me to find one single track that I don’t like, and it also makes it hard to pick favorites. “The Mansion” evokes more of the elements of the second half of Simple Math, but tracks like “Top Notch,” “Cope,” and “All that I really Wanted” really evoke the main themes and loudness of this album.
All in all, COPE is, for a fan of Manchester Orchestra, a dream come true for them crafting an album that reflects their live shows, but it does, at times, feel like they were trying too hard to maintain their Heavy and didn’t spend enough time crafting their dynamic elements that many are so fond of. But don’t let that deter you from listening, because this album certainly is a catchy 38 minutes of dense, heavy rock and roll that may prove to be one of the band’s most successful records to date.
Review by, Nathan Scholz.