I had the pleasure of listening to “Top Notch” — the new digital single from Manchester Orchestra, out earlier this month — way back in April of 2013. The band previewed a few tracks from the then-untitled album COPE at a concert sponsored by HTC in Los Angeles. COPE is finally due out April 1, 2014, a full year later. That show was an absolute treat, and remains the best argument I can think of for buying an HTC device, but I ramble.
As we were jostled around by the folks dancing up front, I turned to my wife and said, “This album is going to be heavy.” “Top Notch” seems to confirm that hypothesis.
Lead singer Andy Hull’s vocal is, as always, on point. His high register seems to be getting broader and stronger as time goes on, and he really goes up into the stratosphere here. “Top Notch” seems to be picking up where “Virgin” from 2011’s Simple Math left off, with loud, chunky guitars and a staccato structure. This is the furthest into the heavy, quasi-hardcore arena the band has ventured from their indie rock roots.
But that’s not what stands out to me most about “Top Notch”. COPE is Manchester Orchestra’s fourth long player, and “Top Notch” sounds suspiciously similar to “You Stole” off of Brand New’s fourth record Daisy: the massive dynamic shifts; the dramatic string bends; the persistent, palm-muted guitars driving forward at all times — all found on both tracks. One is much more of a ballad than a straightforward rock song, but still, it’s striking.
Brand New and Manchester Orchestra have shared many a tour bill, joined one another on stage and Brand New’s guitarist Vin Accardi was very nearly in Manchester Orchestra’s Bad Books side project. The two bands are birds of a feather and, if the trend holds, COPE might just be to Manchester Orchestra as Daisy was to Brand New — a seismic shift in tone.
Daisy was so heavy, so cacophonous, so experimental that it was deeply polarizing. Fans who wanted more pop-punk hits weren’t ready for the furious brand of songwriting Accardi, Jesse Lacey and company had in store for them. Other fans, myself included, consider Daisy their strongest effort yet for just that reason.
If “Top Notch” is any indicator, look for COPE to push boundaries and expectations in that same way.