The Best ‘Trilogy’ of Songs on a Single Album. Period.

May 23, 2024
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It is no exaggeration to say that this album changed my life, both mentally and creatively. This album made Manchester Orchestra, the indie rock band from Atlanta, GA, into one of my all-time favourite groups, and has been in my Spotify rotation ever since. For this, their fifth full-length release, the band decided to shake things up tonally, opting to move away from the heavier, slightly punk sound they had used previously for something much more refined. Because of this, the band managed to transcend, reach a higher realm, and produce nearly fifty minutes of pure audio nirvana. Each song is wonderful in its own right, but when played in album order, they become golden pieces in a near-perfect whole.

 Whole articles could be written on each of the songs but I want to focus on a specific ‘trilogy’ of songs that make up the middle of the record – ‘The Alien’, ‘The Sunshine’, and ‘The Grocery.’

 ‘The Alien’ tells the story of a horrible car crash, with the lyrics hinting at the driver being intoxicated as a means to cope with (or outright avoid) an abusive household and/or a mental health crisis. As the song nears its climax, singer Andy Hull’s voice starts to become more ethereal, culminating in the haunting line – ‘Time has come to take you by the hand, and leave you here alone’ – as if we are slowly sinking into an unconscious, hospital-morphine-fuelled otherworld.

 ‘The Sunshine’ begins right as ‘The Alien’ ends, once again giving us Hull’s beautifully haunting voice singing, ‘I already know that I don’t already know / you are the sunlight,’ as well as starting to introduce a more polyphonic sound, with the vocals starting to layer over each other, fading in and out fluidly, repeating ‘Oh, and that’s alright, alright with me’ until the end.

The relaxed, ephemeral feeling of ‘The Sunshine’ is broken as ‘The Grocery’ kicks in with the first harder, rockier riff in over seven minutes. The lyrics once again return to reality, the reality of another (or the same?) person, beginning the song with yet another sentiment about uncertainty and unknowing – ‘I don’t know where I’m going but I’m going anyways.’ As the subject’s mental health crisis deepens, and they head to the grocery store with a loaded gun, the lyrics start to search for meaning in the universe. This questioning forms the internal monologue of the lyrical subject, who wants ‘to reach above the paradox where nobody can see.’ All this leads to what Manchester Orchestra does better than any other band I can think of – building to a multi-layered musical climax that combines quickening riffs, a rawer sound, and a lyrical punch to the gut. ‘The Grocery,’ after the subject firmly commits to their suicidal course of action, delivered in second-person perspective – ‘You load up your pistol and you press it to your lips / and you squeeze on the trigger, all it does is clicks’ – ends with the truly heartbreaking final line, ‘This is the only way.’

As mentioned, these three songs form a pseudo-trilogy with each song enhancing and being enhanced by the other songs in the section. The riffs repeat, distort, and evolve throughout the three songs, maintaining a familiar structure without feeling repetitive or stagnant. This steady sonic evolution becomes reflected in the lyrics as the story slowly moves from one beat to the next, floating in and out of the subject’s mental space, until the instruments, the singing, and the lyrics all find a singular resting place – between the ears of the listener.

The whole album from front to back and top to bottom is more than just an album, it is an experience. It is the album I use to introduce people to this wonderful band or to let people understand what makes me feel beyond inspired or relaxed. This article could have been written about any song on the album – my personal favourite on the album is ‘The Silence,’ but that is an article for another time – but these three songs, ‘The Alien,’ ‘The Sunshine,’ and ‘The Grocery’ deserve these near-700 words.

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