Lifted Licks: Manchester Orchestra, "A Black Mile to the Surface"

Lifted Licks: Manchester Orchestra, "A Black Mile to the Surface"

Every Thursday here on ES, we check out some new (or in this case, recent) music that is perfect for putting on the hi-fi, filling up the vape or lighting up a blunt, and getting real high to listen to. Many times, this music is great (and this week is no exception), but it's especially good for enjoying while stoned.

This week's "Lifted Licks" come from a band called Manchester Orchestra. Despite the name, they're based not out of Manchester, England, but Atlanta, Georgia, and the band is mainly a product of lead singer and songwriter Andy Hull and his friend, guitarist Robert McDowell. The group has a few solid early albums, but I first recognized them as the composers behind the soundtrack for the great film Swiss Army Man, which stars Daniel Radcliffe as a corpse who serves as inspiration for a depressed (and possibly psychotic) man played by Paul Dano. It sounds insane and it is, but it's also uplifting and really fun. Just listen to the spotlight track from the movie:

So great! Those soaring harmonies and great rhythmic claps hit right home in terms of enjoyable music, and reportedly Hull and McDowell had a great time working on the movie soundtrack together. You can tell!

After finishing that project, they headed back into the studio to produce some songs Hull had been working on (that were slightly biographical), and the result is this amazing album, one of the best of 2017, called "A Black Mile to the Surface."

Given that title, you might guess this is a dark album, and you're not entirely wrong. The opening track is about Hull's relationship with his daughter, and though he calls her "amazing," the track itself is called "The Maze," and that could describe the album as well. There are repeated lines in different contexts, and even repeated musical phrases and themes. Halfway through the album, on a three-song triptych of The Alien, The Sunshine, and The Grocery, Hull and McDowell and their bandmates tell a dark tale of a grocery store shooting (and possibly a suicide) and question the motivations of why someone would do that.

The album culimates in a track called The Wolf, where Hull repeats some of the lyrics' themes over a very impressive rhythmic foundation, and the music almost soars up from underground. It's depressing stuff, but it doesn't feel depressing -- it feels grand and sad and wonderful. Especially when paired with an excellent sativa, your mind can soar through the various tunnels and passages created here, and multiple listens will undoubtedly unlock more depth as well.

If you're looking for something more experimental or unpolished, you'll have to look elsewhere (last week's recommendation is much more flowing and freeform). But this album is great stuff -- a band that is confident and dealing with dark material in an expert way. Manchester Orchestra's latest is our Lifted Licks pick for this week, and whether you're checking it out for the first time or diving back in after the release earlier this year, it's definitely worth a smoke and a listen.

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