I was first introduced to Manchester Orchestra frontman Andy Hull's music last year, though it was through his solo moniker - Right Away, Great Captain! - an acoustic, folk-based project. With his previously established band, Hull explores a louder, more bombastic rock 'n' roll style on Mean Everything To Nothing with a kind of unhinged energy that sometimes rubs up against emo rock but generally avoids falling into the genre's less desirable conventions. Hull is still quite young (22 years old) and his high, strained tenor vocals and earnest lyrics sometimes show it, but his musical ability and songwriting talent point to a remarkable amount of maturity that in some ways compliments and other ways contrasts his youthfulness. The result is a rock album that is genuinely interesting and contains more than enough solid tunes to keep Hull's stock rising steadily.
The first five tracks of Mean Everything To Nothing stick to high-energy rock, with Hull spitting eager lines out in a barely restrained howl, occasionally lapsing into a primal scream on the end of the catchy "Shake It Out" and the metal-tinged "Pride." Though he does come across as a bit over-dramatic at times, his charisma and sincerity are hard to deny, and when the pop hooks shine through the noise as on "I've Got Friends," the results are very compelling. The second half of the disc holds a couple lighter, gentler moments - the melancholy ballad "I Can Feel a Hot One" and the dreary acoustic hidden track on the end of closer "The River." Both add some welcome variety to the record, but the heavier presentation still provide the more interesting tunes on the back half of the album as well as the top.
Mean Everything To Nothing's success is, in large measure, due to the fact that the record never wears you out with its intensity or overstays it's welcome, and that the band skillfully walk the line between progressive song structures and dynamics without sacrificing their alt-rock immediacy. The only obnoxious thing here is that we still have to deal with the annoying hidden-track-on-the-end-of-the-last-song gimmick (though if you buy it digitally, you get them separated), but that's nitpicking. Overall, a strong effort by a very talented band led by a songwriter who's prolific nature thankfully hasn't diminished his ability to make consistently great music. Quantity AND quality, who says you can't have it both ways?
See the boys' rockin' performance of "I've Got Friends" on Letterman and get to their MySpace page to hear more.