Manchester Orchestra have been delivering big, emotional rock for over a decade now, and have always managed to keep from going overboard. However, that skill has meant that they’ve somewhat repeated themselves – their last record, 2014’s Cope (QRO review), was unapologetically exactly what one was looking for from a Manchester Orchestra record, and while it succeeded for it, it was very reminiscent of what had come before. But with A Black Mile To the Surface, the group explores some different sonic ground.
Now, don’t worry – they’re not going EDM or something. Instead, Black Mile sees the band strip down, quiet emotion and guitars rather than loud. Even when the big guitars do come in, such as on “The Grocery” and “The Mistake” (for some reason, every song but one on the record is a “The [one word]”), it’s to provide contrast to the quiet moments in both songs. The album is strongest at its start in pieces like “The Maze”, “The Gold”, and “The Moth”, which use Manchester Orchestra’s newfound restraint to actually increase their evocative power.
A Black Mile To the Surface comes after Manchester Orchestra made their first soundtrack, a vocals-only one (at directors request) for Daniel Radcliffe cult film Swiss Army Man (Radcliffe plays a corpse that washes up on a beach and becomes the lone resident’s best friend…). It isn’t the sonic shift that drastic, but does show the band trying on something new, while not losing their emotional core.