Manchester Orchestra is neither from Manchester, nor is it an orchestra—although many of this Atlanta band's confessional alternative-rock tunes feature strings, keyboards and bells as ingredients in a broad, symphonic sound.
On its second full-length album, Manchester Orchestra layers guitars and more guitars, like flights of angels or squadrons of fighter planes, over dense compositions in which singer/songwriter/guitarist Andy Hull wails at banshee level without descending into shrill tantrums.
In the explosive "Shake It Out," spiky guitar melodies, jittery rhythms and Hull's yelp recall the underrated 1980s band That Petrol Emotion. This song also demonstrates that Manchester Orchestra knows the value of dynamics, capably traveling between hard and soft, fast and slow, and loud and quiet.
Many of the songs feel personal, even nakedly honest, such as the apparent existentialist manifesto "The Only One," which opens the album with Hull singing, "I am the only one that thinks I'm going crazy."
Hull and company always have a trick or two hidden up their collective sleeve. On the brawling "Pride," the band experiments with lurching grunge, as if Black Sabbath collided with Soundgarden. And then there's the closing track, "The River," which is 11 1/2 minutes of folk, alt-country, chamber pop and thick Swans-style drama.