Manchester Orchestra Brings “HOPE” With Inspired Reimagining

Earlier this year, Manchester Orchestra released their hardest-hitting album sonically with COPE. Here’s my review.

I loved it. I didn’t think it was as uniform from song to song as others made it out to be, but it did seem like Manchester had lost the quiet parts of their discography that made them so special. They could produce a rollicking rock song but they were also capable of some breathtakingly beautiful moments. COPE was heavy and intense but it was missing the beauty that was so much a part of their earlier sound.

Little did we know, the band had that covered.

Since the release of COPE, they’ve been working hard in studio on a second album called HOPE. Think on it, and you’ll realize what they were up to – the first portion was uniformly hard for a reason. HOPE is the complete flipside to the same coin; a gorgeous piano and string driven record that reveals a powerful and emotional side to the COPE tracks. In doing this they created a double album where each and every song is interchangeable based on which version speaks to you.

If there is a problem with the album as a whole, it’s the same as COPE: there’s little variety here. All the songs are on the “gorgeous stripped down acoustic” setting. Why would a band so adept at shifting tone on earlier records make one of one single feeling and one of another? This is why I feel that they intended to give listeners the freedom to make their own albums out of both discs, picking the versions they respond to the most to create their own unique mixed rendition of the record.

This seems unprecedented. I can’t recall any other bands doing anything like this – releasing one album and then reinterpreting that album for another release so fans can see what they like more. Instead of tracking the album they wanted, they put the listeners in the drivers seat.

A lot of these songs are the same in name but unrecognizable in execution from the ones on COPE. “Top Notch” goes from an incendiary album opener to a solemn ballad of inadequacy and helplessness. “Girl Harbor” shifts from a full and busy instrumental mix to a simple acoustic guitar and vocal with blasts of harmony, starkly contrasting the chorus of “you waste so much time” between the two.

Songs like “Trees” and “See It Again” are changed up from head to toe, including lyrics and arrangement. Both songs benefit the most from this; “Trees” goes from perhaps their heaviest song on COPE to their most powerful on HOPE, the chorus of “I wanna believe, I gotta believe” gaining power, depth, and meaning on the newer version. The simple arrangement of keyboard and light synth helps the words to resonate that much more. Same with “See It Again” which benefits from being exclusively vocal – the only backing “instrument” on the track is a vocal choir in harmony, making the dissection of faith and religion in the lyrics that much more breathtaking and heartbreaking. The band’s amazing ability to harmonize almost ethereally culminates on this song, and this record in general.

There’s a lot going on here. The differences in arrangements, lyrics, tone and emotion give the listener something to carefully think on. Manchester Orchestra has always hinged on vocalist Andy Hull’s relationship with his faith. On COPE he seems angry towards it, pessimistic and judgmental. On HOPE he seems more accepting of it, more uplifted and inspired. As such, the two albums combined with the “create-your-own” approach might just be Manchester Orchestra’s masterpiece.

Here’s my mix of COPE and HOPE. I wanna see yours! Show me in the comments.

Manchester Orchestra has announced a stripped down tour where they will play HOPE in its entirety plus some other songs from their discography all acoustic-ed and beautified, and they’re making a stop at the Temple Performing Arts Center on Saturday December 6th! Tickets are limited but still available here. See you there!

Image courtesy of the artist via Facebook.

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