Of course, only the future will show whether The Valley of Vision something else vaguely a new chapter in the history of Manchester Orchestra begins to open, or whether we are dealing with “only” a transitional exercise between the major works.
However, it currently looks as if the quartet from Atlanta will once again set off for other shores without losing its trademarks: After the band with No Rule sort of from The Million Masks of God has said goodbye, she now reinvents herself at least a little along the always unmistakable voice of Andy Hull and the songwriting, which is still able to pack the conjuring epic into hymn-like melodies in the electronically tinged, ambient melancholic art pop.
Also by choosing different paths in the creation process with the help of producers Jamie Martens, Catherine Marks and Ethan Gruska: “Making The Valley of Vision was an exciting idea of what the future could be for us in terms of how we create. None of these songs were written with the band being in the same room in a live setting. They were really like science experiments that started from the bottom and were added to gradually over time. We’re intrigued by doing things the wrong way, or attempting things we haven’t done before and getting inspired by them.”
Etherically and calmly, synths and keyboards now dominate the sound cosmos, guitars only play a very manageable role. Chapter of Karma awakens so comfortingly still, pulsing at the piano, warm and soft, gently sparkling in slow motion and with deliberately throbbing minimalism. Thoughtfully flowing, the melody hugs and rears up cautiously at the back, but actually directs the spotlight on the song on the record, which wanders the farthest from familiar realms: The Way is a sacred, shimmering plucked electro-R&B approach, but above all a subversively uplifting catchy tune beyond compare: “Do you wanna find the antidote?/ Driving with the Holy Ghost/Holy death, the holy smoke/ And does it start again?/ I’ve been drinking from a periscope: Trying to watch my obstacles/ See how fully I’ve been broke/And let me start again…“. A hook that ranks among the best the band has written to date; a paradigm shift that has something complete and round about it; before the singing turns into falsetto and probably too Bon Iver might like.
The following rest cannot let such stubborn impressions reverberate, but strictly speaking it does not lower the established level either.
Quietly sways peacefully splashing in patented beauty, later blossoms with guitars and marching drums, meanwhile Letting Go as a muted out-of-phase thud gives the forgiving synth pop, sedatively blurring the background into the textures with a restrained beat before Lose You Again as an enchanting, unspectacular acoustic gem with discreetly hinted orchestral schemes of the arrangements, immediately feels familiar and homely, and is also symptomatic of the subversive dynamics of the record.
Because not only the so aptly titled Rear View is classic at its core Manchester Orchestra-Material, just decelerated through the Klangbasteler prism, appearing in an unfamiliar guise – which fits the band’s aesthetics fabulously, not only when the closer begins to shimmer in jubilation from the back and the rear-view mirror lets you look ahead. The Valley of Vision is a homogeneous work, versatile and holistic, but often not creating the usual consistency in terms of profundity and intensity, when Hull, McDowell, Very and Prince still feel a bit too non-committal scratching the new possibilities, especially since they keep promising how disturbing and poignant this stylistic course correction can be for Manchester Orchestra on the threshold of a new potential high phase.