It’s time for something a bit different from Manchester Orchestra. Not that that’s a new phenomenon, given how persistent their growth into a towering modern rock colossus has been, and how that’s seem them embrace wider breadths of sonic power and fervour than what they initially began with. Right now, they’re the sort of band for whom confidence in their endeavours is a given, no less because they’re still continuing to smash past their own peaks. But then comes The Valley Of Vision, what might as well be a side EP for how little connective tissue it has with the current Manchester Orchestra oeuvre, as a brittle, stripped-back collection that, most of the time, is absent of even guitar. Don’t let that be cause for alarm, though. If any band can thrive on the purity of emotion laid bare with little else in the frame, Manchester Orchestra are it. And when you factor in the quiet, tacit experimentation that bubbles and ticks away and builds its alluring canvas, The Valley Of Vision is considerably potent.
There’s a slow-building, cinematic quality here that’s captured so well, fitting for the short film set to accompany the EP’s release. It comes from the liminality baked into a release like this; stripping out the guitars allows empty space to ring louder and heavier, as Capital Karma’s delicacy swaddles its soft piano thrums and echoing vocal samples, and Quietly and Letting Go root themselves in jittery alt-pop among its clouds of atmosphere. The production on here really is immaculate when it comes to visualising Manchester Orchestra’s frigid ideas and soundscapes. Even on Lose You Again, a largely barebones country song reminiscent of Zach Bryan’s own wounded plains hymns, the addition of extra pianos and multi-tracked vocal harmonies smartly avoids a campfire warmth that isn’t really what’s being shot for here.
More so, The Valley Of Vision finds Andy Hull’s ruminations is fittingly insular, sometimes esoteric form. Either way, he’s a tremendous lyricist, and unburdened by typical genre conventions or expectations puts that further forth on a song like The Way. On that song in particular, the threads of existentialism and higher questioning feel more tangled and knotted, and to their overall benefit. It’s where the weight of a release like this comes from, as the vision is magnified for the minute details to resonate and ring out all the clearer. Just look at the scene-setting on Rear View for the most obvious zenith, as an example of Hull’s storytelling and characterising on a human level that’s so electrifying.
The same can easily be applied to Hull himself as well, mind. Just like the instrumental palette, the salt and sugar in his vocals are in much tighter focus, largely in hushed tones but with their idiosyncrasies on full display. Though let’s be frank—when coated in reverb and flanked by some well-placed multi-tracking, it’s a thing of beauty every time. Even in the most inconsequential instances like Letting Go, it presents a body and an opulence that, really, the rest of the EP doesn’t have. Therefore, when it amplifies the passion and devotion of Capital Karma’s back half by tenfold at least, or brings forward some absolutely perfect notes on Rear View, it can be breathtaking.
They’re tiny, isolated moments, but doesn’t that feel right on a release like this? As less of a defined statement and more a collection of ideas spun into gold, The Valley Of Vision putting this much emphasis on its most minute details works immeasurably for it. It puts paid to any notion of ‘just a throwaway’, in any case. Throwaways aren’t as meticulously crafted as this is, nor do they explore their own band’s working recesses as this does. It’s just as worthy of the sheen of quality as most Manchester Orchestra work, and its notable deviations and paradoxically big creative swings only make it glow all the more incandescent. It’s not to be slept on or dismissed, not by a long shot.
For fans of: Idlewild, Kevin Devine, City And Colour
‘The Valley Of Vision’ by Manchester Orchestra is released on 10th March on Loma Vista Recordings.
Words by Luke Nuttall