New Music Reviews: Manchester Orchestra, tUnE-yArDs, and Wolf Alice

Welcome back to new music reviews, with three recent albums. Manchester Orchestra’s earnest stadium rock, tUnE-yArDs’ eclectic indie-soul, and Wolf Alice’s valiant attempts to reignite mainstream rock.

Manchester Orchestra

The Million Masks of God

2021, 8.5/10
In spite of their name, this band is from Atlanta. The name Manchester Orchestra reflects leader Andy Hull’s obsession with The Smiths.

21st-century arena-rock is often problematic – empty postures against a predictable backing. But Manchester Orchestra are able to add enough emotional heft to make their cinematic rock appealing. The title The Million Masks of God is taken from a G.K. Chesterton poem about ageing.

The most dramatic pieces on The Millions Masks of God are the most memorable – Hull keens his way through Angel of Death and sings “I don’t want to hold back my faith anymore” in ‘Let It Storm’. But they’re also excellent when they play gentle – the gorgeous acoustic ‘Telepath’ and the brooding ‘Dinosaur’ are great moments.

The Million Masks of God sounds like a lame fifth-generation U2-knockoff on paper, but it’s often great in practice.


tUnE-yArDs

Sketchy.

2021, 7.5/10
Merrill Garbus worked as a puppeteer before she formed tUnE-yArDs with Nate Brenner. Based in Oakland, California, the married couple are an eclectic, post-modern duo. I find a disconnect between the raw yelping and kitsch music, but there are some great tracks on their fifth album Sketchy.. Their music is vibrant, with melody instruments augmenting with the lead vocals in their busy arrangements.

The stacked vocals on the chorus of ‘Hypnotized’ are gorgeous, my favourite moment of the record. There’s a great gospel-ish bridge on ‘Hold Yourself.’, and ‘Under Your Lip’ is also pretty with its neo-soul feel.

Sometimes Sketchy. is a record that I admire more than I enjoy, but it’s worth dipping in if you’d like something refreshingly vibrant.


Wolf Alice

Blue Weekend

2021, 9/10
London alternative band Wolf Alice have been around for a decade, but their third album feels like a step forward, a confident group at the top of their game. Frontwoman Ellie Rowsell is charismatic and interesting, and the band switches between memorable tunes and impactful walls of noise. Blue Weekend has been deservedly successful, debuting at number one in the UK.

Wolf Alice cover a lot of stylistic ground without deviating far from a four-piece band setup – although one notable guest is Owen Pallett on string arrangements. They play bouncy, Beatles-esque pop of ‘Last Man on Earth’ while ‘The Beach II’ recalls shoegaze. The group’s pop-smarts are on display on ‘Lipstick on the Glass’, while the main hook of ‘How Can I Make It OK?’ comes straight from the 1980s

Rowsell takes the limelight on ‘Delicious Things’. It starts terrifically, with Rowsell’s wordless vocals riding over a great chord progression in the intro. It never lets up with Rowswell’s combination of wide-eyed-wonder and pragmatism.

I’m often tempted to write off mainstream rock music as predictable, the last whispers of a dying art-form, but Blue Weekend is vibrant and exciting.

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Aphoristical
Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande.
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16 Comments

  1. I loved the new Wolf Alice. It feels like one of those “how did some of these melodies not exist before?”-type albums to me. However, “Feeling Myself” feels like such a sweeping, epic album closer that I’m surprised with each listen that it isn’t.

    • ‘Feeling Myself’ is a song that hasn’t jumped out at me yet. I’m pretty impressed that there’s a rock album that’s achieved mainstream success that I find genuinely interesting – wasn’t expecting to find that.

  2. Manchester Orchestra and Wolf Alice. Now you are in my music zip code.

    I love “Bed Head” which got major Indy radio play in North America. I’ll listen to the rest.

    Thanks!

  3. I like Manchester Orchestra…I’ve heard them before on EclecticMusicLovers site… Wolf Alice sounds good also. I like the buildup to the payoff and the backing vocals.

    I do think the more traditional rock/pop bands these days are a tad over produced. A guitar sounds as smooth as a synth and the voices are so layered. I would like to hear more raw sounds in modern pop music. That is why I like The Marfa Tapes you posted…it sounds spontaneous.

    • Both of those rock albums are rooted in 1980s and 1990s stuff I reckon – you can draw a pretty clear line from U2 to Manchester Orchestra. That Wolf Alice record is pretty diverse – they’re punk on ‘Play the Greatest Hits’, but you could argue that some of their sound is derived from the UK shoegaze scene of the early 1990s. So I think both bands are naturally pretty synthetic.

      Another rock album I like from this year and will get too soon is Mdou Moctar – he’s from North Africa and generally a lot less produced – might be more up your street.

      • I do like some of both…I found one by Wolf Alice called Smile that I liked while listening to more.

        I’ll be looking forward to that. Not that I don’t like some polished pop sometimes…I’m mean I like ELO, Moody Blues, and Queen.

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