For all intents and purposes, Andy Hull is a man of intense faith. A burly product of the manicured Atlanta suburb Alpharetta, Hull fronts Manchester Orchestra like a fiery Southern preacher, holding audiences hostage with a rapt sense of wonder and deep lyrical purpose. If the man sings it, he believes it.
But like any good emoting frontman raised in the pews, Hull seems to treasure the act of keeping his beliefs close to his chest, thus making Manchester Orchestra either the single most religious band this side of Cornerstone, or a conflicted secular gathering of those orphaned by the Holy Spirit. Ranking their spirituality is up to the listener, as the band's latest, Mean Everything to Nothing—the follow-up to their first proper full-length, the surprising I'm Like a Virgin Losing a Child—teeters that fine line between worldly confidence and religious curiosity. Much like how David Bazan turned Pedro the Lion into a rancorous mouthpiece for belief alongside a detracting sense of faith, Hull balances the two; one foot propped between the gates of Heaven, the other on secular dry land.
The success that has loyally followed Manchester Orchestra in their brief—yet triumphant—run can be traced to the fervent vocal delivery of Hull, and a band that takes the volatile emo-for-the-masses leanings of acts like Brand New, and intertwines them with In the Aeroplane over the Sea-era Neutral Milk Hotel. It's a potent mix of fleeting pop pleasure alongside a deep-rooted sense of importance, a high-wire act that few bands could mirror, much less pull off with such grace. All lack of creative drive that is synonymous with small-town Christianity is erased by influences—the band name is an homage to the Smiths, their signature style of visual album art a respectful Guy Maddin-esque presentation of blurry recreated reality—which stretch far beyond the fringes of the Bible Belt.
More so than is expected of a songwriter in his early 20s, Hull divulges with restraint in songs like the overwhelmingly tragic "I Can Feel a Hot One" ("To pray for what I thought were angels/Ended up being ambulances/And the Lord showed me dreams of my daughter/She was crying inside your stomach"), or the spiritual panic of "In My Teeth" ("What happens when I don't know what happens?"). This gift, to both reveal so little and mask so much, is reason enough to believe in Manchester Orchestra. A little faith won't kill you.