Album Review: Manchester Orchestra's Hope

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To celebrate the physical release of Manchester Orchestra's Hope, a subdued reworking of the songs contained on the band's most recent "proper" full-length, Cope (an unapologetically loud alt-rock album), let's clear up some of the misconceptions about it that have been circling the web:

??1) Hope is not a bullsh*tty "unplugged" album or an iTunes-exclusive bonus release or something. It actually reflects a great deal of care and arrangement on the bands' part.

??2) Hope is also not an "apology" record to those who were unimpressed with the band's shift to the balls-out rock of Cope from the feel of the album that preceded it, the grandiose Simple Math.

??Here's the thing about Manchester Orchestra: they've proven to be adept at both the "brutal" rock sounds of Cope and the lush orchestration that makes up Hope.

While one would think that that would be an asset to any band, it has proven to be extremely divisive amongst Manchester Orchestra fans - some of whom cringe at the very thought of a string section in their rock albums and some of whom can't understand why the band would ever revert to a simplistic approach after they've proved to be compositionally so far ahead of their peers with Simple Math.

??Hence the apology theory, which originated in Sputnikmusic's forums and goes something like this: Manchester Orchestra are trying to have their cake and eat it too.

They get a few bad reviews for Cope, so they go back and retract their original statement.

If you get past all the conjecture, it's actually pretty easy to understand the band's motives for releasing Hope - all professional artists put their work through varying incarnations, so if the songs not only work, but benefit, from rearrangement, why the hell not? Such an action doesn't constitute a repudiation of Cope.??

As enjoyable as Cope was, Hope is where its songs are really allowed to flourish. The reworked "Girl Harbor" is far more fetching and immediately-pleasing than the original.

It definitely wasn't a stand-out on Cope, but it becomes one on Hope. Moreover, songs that made the most of Cope's loud dynamic and probably shouldn't work - such as "Top Notch" - come across as pleasant surprises. ??

"Every Stone," is the only song here that doesn't meet or exceed the original. As one of Cope's best tracks, this isn't a testament of failure so much as it's just a problem of the bar being set too high.

??The go-to press descriptor for Hope seems to be "stripped-down" but that couldn't miss the mark more. Your reviewer would argue that Hope is actually "built-up." If the songs here aren't louder than they are on Cope, they're more involved, more touching and, for the most part, better. Could Manchester Orchestra have done a little more editing and found the best version of each song and made one album? Sure.

But we all know how to customize a playlist at this point, so that's a bit of a fruitless argument. Don't knock it as a gimmick, because Hope is enthralling and has more than justified its existence.