They're not a symphony of east Atlantic imports. They're not even British. No, for those still among the uninitiated, Manchester Orchestra is the barely legal, Hotlanta five-piece whose faith in both their convictions and compositions has paid off handsomely less than two years after they began playing together.
Led by precocious 20-year-old frontman Andy Hull, the band—guitarist Robert McDowell, keyboardist/vocalist Chris Freeman, bassist Jonathan Corley, and drummer Jeremiah Edmond—began the year by appearing on nearly every national tastemakers' list—all before they'd even issued a proper debut album. And when that album, the eventual I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child, arrived (via the band's own Favorite Gentlemen label), it did what so few keenly anticipated discs do anymore. It delivered.
Built upon Hull's evocative lyrical outbursts and lilting melodies, and surrounded by crashing, feedback-drenched guitars and a fiery, if understated, rhythm section, it's the sort of album bands like the Decemberists and R.E.M. could spend years working backward toward, assuming they could turn back time to sound impassioned and confused enough by their place in the world to pull it off.
Accordingly, the album's virtues have resonated with both audiences young and old, visceral and literate, impressing equally alongside such disparate acts as Brand New, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, and Saves the Day. Making the songs all the more intriguing is that Hull barely experienced the usual pangs of high school life at all, instead withdrawing from traditional education and engaging in home school and recording at age 16. Rather than slouching through creative writing class, he was crafting a sprawling concept album that he hoped would one day serve as Manchester Orchestra's proper debut. But as outside players entered the fold—pals Corley and Edmond were first—it became clear that what Hull had been harboring might not represent what the emerging Manchester Orchestra collective was, or, for that matter, could be.
"When I was writing concept records before, I think I was trying to write for other people to learn a lesson, thinking I had something to preach or prove," Hull says. "'You guys don't understand how much I had a great grasp of the world at 17.'"
Subsequently, those offerings were pared and reassembled into an EP called You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs a Good Editor. Adopting the title as a kind of mandate, the group then set about achieving its unified aspirations together in a more compact manner. And on I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child, they do so while simultaneously sounding both assured and eager for unexpected revelations.
"I think [these songs] are about me and how I really don't understand anything," says Hull. "There's a big difference between 19 and 20. These songs are a whole lot more 'This is what our band sounds like—and this is what we wanna write.'"
Obviously, it's also what folks want to hear. Fresh from a fall tour alongside Kings of Leon and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club—not to mention their autumn television appearance on Late Show with David Letterman—the quintet's quickly proved that the fuss surrounding their arrival wasn't merely hot air.
"We need to play as many shows as we possibly can and just continue to have fun," says Hull, "but maintain as much control as we can over our destiny and try to grow our band organically."
Wise beyond his years? Maybe. Just goes to show that some things can't be taught.