manchester on manchester

manchester orchestra with singer andy hull in foreground. photo by james minchin iii.

manchester orchestra with singer and lyricist andy hull in foreground. photo by james minchin iii.

The goal was simple. When Manchester Orchestra hit the studio to cut its sophomore album, Mean Everything to Nothing, the idea was to make “a rock record.” As the band’s keyboardist Chris Freeman put it, “We were ready to make some louder noises.”

But what happens as Manchester Orchestra cranks things up is a bit unexpected. When the volume is raised, so are some especially restless spirits. Within the earthy, unsettling and often spiritual songs that make up Mean Everything, Manchester Orchestra offers more of an ear-crunching séance than a conventional rock ‘n roll party.

Take the leadoff tune The Only One, where singer Andy Hull howls about life as the lone son of a Southern pastor and the ultimately “passive power of the truth” over buzzsaw guitars and synths and a mutated ’60 pop groove. It’s a song both exhilarating and squeamish.

“Lyrically and thematically, this is a very personal record for Andy,” Freeman said. “I mean he really is the son of a pastor. He grew up in the South. So there are definitely religious aspects to the lyrics and the music. These were things that became a big part of growing up in the South and remain part of what we think about on a day-to-day basis.”

In a review of a spring performance that celebrated the release of Mean Everything, The New York Times’ Jon Caramanica pegged the band’s music as “a comfortably depressing blend of emo and Southern rock, shaggy and desperate.” It went on to mention how the band “played with the vigor, thrust and density of a heavy metal band… there was barely any room to breathe.”

Such a temperament may point to the middle ground that will be occupied when Manchester Orchestra comes to Manchester St. in Lexington to play Buster’s as part of a triple indie rock bill that also features the power punk charge of Bowling Green’s Cage the Elephant and the far sleeker yet elemental melodies of the Los Angeles pop brigade Silverspun Pickups.

But there is also a tug of war within Manchester music where repression often battles discovery. On Mean Everything songs such as My Friend Marcus, the conflict turns very dark. Real life, though, has been less foreboding.

For much of his Georgia upbringing, Freeman was forbidden to listen to contemporary pop, rock or rap by his parents. Older rock records by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and the like were allowed. But the only permissible sounds of the era had to come from Christian radio stations.

Eventually – and, perhaps inevitably – the outside world came knocking. For Freeman, it came in the form of a Radiohead record.

“I remember the first time I heard (the band’s second album) The Bends,” he recalled. “I was in the back of my friend’s sister’s white 1996 Mustang driving down to the beach during spring break of ’01 or ’02. When the record ended, I felt like a hammer had hit me over the head.”

Today, Manchester Orchestra’s music gets to do the hammering. But the band’s often agitated indie tunes have also been afforded some very commercial outlets. For example, I Can Feel a Hot One, which was released on a 2008 EP titled Let My Pride Be What’s Left Behind before finding a place on Mean Everything, was featured on an episode of Gossip Girl. And if you think a pack of spiritually inclined Southern hothead rockers don’t think that’s cool, guess again.

“Hey, I’ve watched Gossip Girl pretty regularly since I lost The O.C. as my guilty pleasure show. So when we got the offer to have our song on Gossip Girl, we freaked out. The night that episode was on, we all ordered some dinner and sat in front of the TV like little school children and watched for our song to come on.”

The steady rise in popularity of Manchester Orchestra has also earned Freeman two new fans: his parents.

“It’s funny, for Mother’s Day, I bought my mom an iPod and filled it with all of my favorite records as well as records I thought she would enjoy. Of course, I left off all the ones with massive amounts of swearing and drug references. And now she’s totally into all the music that I tried to get her to let me listen to back in the day. She loves Kings of Leon. All of her friends are blown away by the music she listens to now.

“But then getting to perform like we have on David Letterman and Conan O’Brien has kind of vindicated our careers with our parents. Now we can be like, “Hey, mom, we’re gonna be on TV. This is a real job where we’re kind of making some money.’ So that’s always fun.”

Silverspun Pickups, Manchester Orchestra and Cage the Elephant perform at 8 tonight at Buster’s Billiards and Backroom, 899 Manchester St.  Tickets are $25.

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