Album Reviews

Album Review: Manchester Orchestra – The Million Masks of God

Manchester Orchestra releases their new album, The Million Masks of God, via Loma Vista Recordings
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Manchester Orchestra is back with their sixth studio album from Favorite Gentleman Recordings. The new album, The Million Masks of God, will be released via Loma Vista Recordings on April 30.

The album follows a straight forward story, put together in a Terrence Malick like “movie structure,” to be experienced in one sitting, vs. piece by piece, song by song. The Millions Masks of God was co-written by Andy Hull and Robert McDowell. According to Hull, this album is about, “from birth to beyond, focusing on the highs and lows of life and exploring what could possibly come next.” Listeners can track the theme by listening for, “share[d] choruses, lyrics fold[ing] over themselves [that] keep coming back…[it’s] cyclical intertwining… It’s a carefully constructed collection. A dream-like montage of life experience.”

Additional layers were then baked into the album’s theme when McDowell’s father passed away from cancer in 2019, putting an extra surreal weight on the band’s artistic statement.

The album’s story is intact from the opening tone to the last keyboard warble. The end result is a sonic mesh of indie easy listening and enlightening technicality that is a delight for any music fan, regardless or genre.

Track 1: Inaudible

You’re inaudible 
Thrown away like an audible 
Wheel you down to the old folks home 
Are you listening to me? 

  • The track opens in a flutter before releasing into a full thrill of sound.
  • Immediately, you assume this song is about birth; however, upon further inspection the song is masked in death percussion and may in fact reveal the more cyclical nature of life. Before the song is over, you’re quoting The Lion King and laying on your back talking to Mufasa’s constellation.

Track 2: Angel of Death

I was told it wouldn’t be long 
‘Life’s a basket full of cravings’
Better than the evil you know
Repeat yourself in me

  • “Inaudible” blends into “Angel of Death” – a poppy gothic track with rattlesnake percussion and hazy minor chords. The song is reminiscent of Neil Young meets My Chemical Romance.
  • In Track 2, our hero departs Death, finds a new Life, and explores the weight it carries.

Track 3: Keel Timing

Love me now, no I will not repeat myself 
So love me now, yeah all I do is repeat myself
There’s comfort in the constant quell
Now I’m awake and I don’t know how

  • A ripple guitar brings us into the track.
  • The song has a New Order down beat and groovy Beach Boy vocals.
  • You can feel the song building anticipation in your chest as you storm around in a field playing helicopter. Eventually the storm divides and joy wins over.
  • The song exudes angst that lends itself towards innocence vs. arrogance.
  • Ultimately, the song tells us that our hero has two choices: he can either 1) go down with this old boat and drown like a Titanic captain, or 2) take off and swim into the unknown. Our hero chooses the unknown.
  • This is my favorite track of the album!!

Track 4: Bed Head

Oh my god 
Let me relinquish and start to distinguish, my past, and my time 
There is only love and fire, so…
Oh my god, let me extinguish the habit, the sequence, the loss, in my mind
Now I believe in the ghost 

  • The album’s kick off single tells us our hero has arrived and planted his flag. Whatever Life is, our hero is almost halfway through it, so he decides it’s finally time to dig in even if he can’t know all the answers. He thanks the Past for bringing him to this moment and pushes the red button.
  • The track’s piano is both the ghost and child of Jack’s Mannequin’s “Dark Blue.”

Track 5: Annie

Oh I wasn’t ashamed then, of my degree
The fear that I once paid for now was free 
But I wasn’t afraid then, of who I’d become
In a desperate vain attempt to talk to God

  • We would be remiss without the title lady song. Manchester Orchestra joins the Annie ranks of Ben Folds Five, Heart, Michael Jackson, John Denver, and Charnin & Strouse to name a few.
  • The track has a spooky speckle rhythm guitar and bass.
  • In the hero’s young life, we come to the place where his new found confidence and ambition has soured into arrogance. Our hero contemplates how do you have one without the other? He ultimately determines that the unknown answer is the key to the secret cupboard of happiness.

Track 6: Telepath

In your mind this is some new and glorious morning 
And you ain’t ever gonna let nobody take that light again
Everyone I know is slowly falling in the ocean
I don’t want to be the next to row, I never learned to swim 

  • Telepath is the essential “the one who got away” song accompanied with delicate acoustic and the ghost of “Annie’s” vocals mixed with Hull’s.

Track 7: Let it Storm

When the guilts got you strapped to your bed 
Gnashing teeth while you bargain your debt 

  • The intro trill of guitar and piano feels like wet, heavy snow falling from the sky and melting the second it hits the grey concrete.
  • The wetness turns into a quick and light percussion syncopation that remains the undercurrent for the entire track.
  • The hopeful lyrics are juxtaposed against the minor synth, suggesting that having hope is not naive, but be prepared for the shit until you find the storm’s eye.

Track 8: Dinosaur

Love me now, I will not repeat myself 
So love me now, cause I just can’t redeem myself
From all the lies I told myself would help
From all my faults I blame on someone else   

  • This song repeats the theme of repetition; however, this track rings differently for me than the other’s do. While it is not explicit, “Dinosaur” feels to be about becoming a father and reflecting on the middle-age of the hero’s life. The hero continues to come to terms with who he is in the present, but this time, he is looking to be different for someone else, not just himself. And if he can’t, he hope love can transcend any of his personal failures or shortcomings as a father.

Track 9: Obstacle

In the light, you arrive, as the curtain closes 
Intertwined and attached to his soul
There were not any sermons to speak 
There was goodbye and hello 

  • Without ever changing tempo, Manchester Orchestra deviates from a standard vocal structure, creating interesting and unexpected cuplets and triplets.
  • This song feels to be the most directly inspired by the death of McDowell’s father.
  • Nevertheless, this isn’t a sad song. Manchester Orchestra argues that Death is just one of many journeys and saying goodbye is actually setting sail to new and unchartered territories.

Track 10: Way Back

So young to fall 
So learn to fall 

  • “Way Back” reminds the listener to embrace the Life they had and not look back at it with regret.
  • Manchester Orchestra tells us that it actually takes more courage to embrace our past and to run forward knowing we did the best we all could, rather than dragging our feet.

Track 11: Internet

Wake me up
I am inside of it 
You were in spite of it 
I was on fire for it  
Let me admire this and let go 

  • The final song brings us back to the beginning. Death is here, but if Manchester Orchestra’s theory is correct, then so is Life.
  • Throughout the album a voice over of a child is heard explaining the fable “The Boy Who Cried Wolf.” The album ends on this note, specifying that the boy has finally learned his lesson. Which leads me to ask, is Manchester Orchestra suggesting that living life is constantly crying wolf, because in the moment everything is dramatic and immediate? And that only after Death is at our door do we “learn our lesson” and realize that we were crying wolf this entire time? But if that’s the case, the band is suggesting that Life isn’t intrinsically valuable and ultimately contradicts the larger thesis of the album. The voice over weakens an otherwise strong album, adding conflicting symbolism to an album already layered in spiritual philosophy.

The album does not turn the genre of indie rock on its head or push it to new boundaries, but it is mixed magically by producer Catherine Marks, and will blast loudly through college dorms post-pandemic.

Overall, The Million Masks of God tells a cinematic story akin to Ferris Bueller’s life philosophy: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”

Manchester Orchestra’s new album, The Millions Masks of God, is available April 30 – here.

Emma is a former (and sometimes) Democratic political operative. When not on a campaign, Emma is focused on writing timely pieces on culture, punk music, and spooky run-ins. After writing hours, Emma can be found mouthing off, watching baseball, and reading Stephen King. Emma is currently located in an antelope laden field in Wyoming. Find dated, pop culture references on her Twitter, @enlaurent, or read her other work at emmalaurent.com

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