Centered on the deeply personal, often biographical songs of singer/guitarist Andy Hull, Georgia’s Manchester Orchestra are known for their emotive, textured blend of post-hardcore rock. Barely out of high school when they debuted with 2006’s I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child, Manchester Orchestra gained greater recognition with 2009’s Mean Everything to Nothing, which cracked the top 40 of the Billboard album charts. They have continued to mature, embracing a stylistically wide-ranging sound that touches upon everything from acoustic folk balladry to kinetic prog-rock, and earning several Top Ten Billboard Rock Albums, including 2011’s Simple Math and 2014’s Cope. Inspired by their work crafting the soundtrack to 2016’s independent film Swiss Army Man, the group has grown increasingly concept driven, a style they brought further to fruition with 2017’s A Black Mile to the Surface and 2021’s The Million Masks of God.
You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs a Good EditorFormed in 2004 in Atlanta, Georgia, Manchester Orchestra grew out of songs that singer/guitarist Andy Hull had begun writing while in high school. Encouraged by positive response, he opted for homeschooling during his senior year, which afforded him enough time to compose and record in the studio. Friends began collaborating with him over time, and Manchester Orchestra soon solidified into a trio comprising Hull, bassist Jonathan Corley, and drummer Jeremiah Edmond. Hull’s songwriting noticeably progressed with the addition of his friends, and the band courted its first fans with an EP release. You Brainstorm, I Brainstorm, But Brilliance Needs a Good Editor thus appeared in 2005 through the band’s own label, Favorite Gentlemen Recordings. With the EP out, Manchester Orchestra began playing shows around the Southeast and added keyboardist Chris Freeman to the mix. Buzz about the band’s music began creating a stir beyond the Atlanta city limits, and the guys were invited to play slots at the South by Southwest and Lollapalooza festivals in 2006 before beginning to work on their full-length album that summer. The resulting I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child was issued by the year’s end, offering up a poignant collection of memorable hooks and thoughtful narratives that showcased a similar style to acts like the Weakerthans and Death Cab for Cutie.
Eventually, studio intern turned guitarist Robert McDowell joined the lineup permanently, and as a steady buzz continued to grow — especially on Internet blogs — Manchester Orchestra snagged an opening spot on Brand New’s largely sold-out tour in spring 2007. The increased exposure caught the interest of Canvasback Recordings, which reissued the band’s debut album that summer. A second EP, Let My Pride Be What’s Left Behind, followed in October 2008, and the band remained in the studio during the subsequent months to perfect its sophomore album. Released in 2009, Mean Everything to Nothing found the band working alongside producer Joe Chiccarelli, famous for his work with the Shins and My Morning Jacket.
HopeIn 2011, the band released its third full-length studio album, Simple Math, a concept album built around Hull’s life story. They then delivered a fourth album, 2014’s heavy, post-hardcore-infused Cope. That same year, the band returned with Hope, a companion piece to Cope, featuring reworked, largely acoustic versions of all the album’s songs. Hull and McDowell then collaborated on the soundtrack to the 2016 film Swiss Army Man. Consisting entirely of layered vocal tracks, the soundtrack was well received and garnered nominations for Best Original Score for a Comedy Film and Film Music Composition of the Year at the 2016 International Film Music Critics Association Awards.
The following year, Manchester Orchestra returned with their fifth full-length album, A Black Mile to the Surface. Produced with Catherine Marks (Foals, Wolf Alice), the album found the band taking a conceptual, cinematic approach inspired by their work on Swiss Army Man. Bouyed by the singles “The Gold,” “The Alien,” and “The Moth,” the album hit number 33 on the Billboard 200 and reached number 7 on the Top Rock Albums chart. A cover of the Avett Brothers’ “No Hard Feelings” appeared in 2018. A second Marks production, The Million Masks of God, arrived in 2021 and again found the band adopting a conceptual approach, exploring themes of birth, death, and what lies beyond.
Known for a theatrical style of introspective indie rock, Foxing brought together active members of the St. Louis, Missouri music scene in the early 2010s. With backgrounds that included post-rock, emo, and math rock bands, they expanded upon guitar-oriented fare with orchestral instruments beginning with their full-length debut, 2013’s The Albatross.
DealerLed by singer Conor Murphy, Foxing formed in 2011 after the dissolution of Hunter Gatherer, a post-rock project that had common members including bass player Josh Coll and drummer Jon Hellwig. Foxing issued an EP titled Old Songs in 2012. Their debut LP, The Albatross, arrived in 2013 on indie label Count Your Lucky Stars Records, and had strings, saxophones, and brass fleshing out their lush guitar palette. The lineup of Murphy, Coll, Hellwig, and guitarists Eric Hudson and Ricky Sampson soon signed with Triple Crown Records, which released the band’s second full-length, the similarly expansive Dealer, in October 2015.
Nearer My GodIn 2017, Coll left the group to focus on filmmaking, and Murphy released a self-titled album under the solo moniker Smidley. With producer Chris Walla on board, the group reconvened as a four-piece for its third album, Nearer My God, also issued by Triple Crown.
Leah Wellbaum has never been afraid of her own humility or honesty. But she’s never quite examined it the way she has now with Parallel Timeline.
On Slothrust’s latest album, bandleader Leah Wellbaum pushed herself to try and understand her own spirituality on a deeper level, putting a lens on the core wound of the human experience, the idea that we’re alone. With Parallel Timeline, Wellbaum explores the feeling of being trapped inside her own consciousness while simultaneously searching for a meaningful connection to the universe, and all the mysteries it contains.
During the writing process, Wellbaum sought to connect with her inner child – a voice that allows ideas to flow freely and without censorship. Ultimately, it allowed her to find poetic catharsis. The album’s artwork and visuals reflect that ethos as well. For her, inverted colored rainbows and orbs became a gateway to exploring the illusory things we see and experience in everyday life. The iconography of this record explores the space where science and the whimsical intersect, and where the unfamiliar becomes hardly recognizable. She is a strong believer that nothing is quite as it seems, and that a greater reality exists beyond what the human eye can see.
In advance of recording their fifth studio album, Leah, along with drummer Will Gorin, and bassist/producer Kyle Bann, sought to dramatically expand the band’s sonic palette. Slothrust put an emphasis on incorporating new production techniques and processes into the established Slothrust sound, resulting in an extraordinary amount of experimental demo recordings, many elements of which appear themselves on the final record. They leaned into risk-taking — a freedom that comes with having been in a band together for more than 10 years, cultivating new sonic realms for each track. Leah sought to craft unique and calculated guitar parts instead of continuous bursts of wall-to-wall sound, and in turn delivers what will likely be considered a “how-to manual” for guitar playing in the next decade.
“On this record, I wanted to be even more precise with the guitar parts as opposed to creating a guitar palette, because a lot of artists, us included, have made songs that are so chock-full of guitar that distinct parts becomes a blur,” says Wellbaum. “I enjoy making that choice when it’s right but it’s the contrast of those things that I like to lean into. I strive to make the guitar sing like a human voice.”
Educated musicians all with backgrounds in classical, jazz and blues, the band’s newest work once again sees Slothrust leaning into improvisation — something that in the past has lent itself to the infectious energy of their live shows. Parallel Timeline, mixed by industry legend Billy Bush and mastered by Heba Kadry is a masterclass in balancing tenderness with the fierce guitar work Leah has become known for. With a distinct yet unified sound that blends progressive rock, acoustic and pop, Slothrust has never been more confident.
The backbone of the 10-track record is Leah’s spiritual journey and presence as a guitar god. Opener “Cranium” features a blues-tinged guitar solo inspired by Funkadelic’s “Maggot Brain” that is so expressive it sings. ““The song addresses absurd ways to love someone or something, and feels very on-theme with things not always being what they appear at first,” says Wellbaum of the track. “It also touches on tenderness being painful, which I think is very true of me as someone who has spent a lot of my life trying to be very tough.”
With catchy grunge-rock jaunt “Once More For The Ocean” and the slow-burning ballad “King Arthur’s Seat,” Leah didn’t have access to an instrument when she wrote them. Instead the lyrics, she felt, were channeled through her as she stared into nature, reflecting the idea of oneness that she was searching for. Inspired by both Scotland and Billy Joel, “King Arthur’s Seat” also “addresses this core human wound that will come up time and time again for all of us, which is the feeling of being alone and separate and not really knowing what to do with that,” Wellbaum says.
With soaring guitar-riffs and Leah’s twinkling harmonies, the ethereal “Waiting” further contemplates the idea of wanting to heal yourself but not knowing how. In the track, connecting with nature – in this case, birds — is a balm. Penned with singer Donna Missal, “The Next Curse” was intended to be a “spell,” but it ended up being a curse. Flanked by thunderous guitars and Leah’s haunting vocals, the blistering rock anthem explores how even among the world’s destruction we still don’t take the time to take care of ourselves: “Earth’s gonna set on fire/But still I wait.” Producer Billy Bush’s influence shines on this track with burly guitars, Leah’s haunting vocals, and a fantastic display of vocal harmony in a feature from Halestorm singer Lzzy Hale. “Billy has that perfect balance of someone who is just easy to be around, totally gets the joke and is available to laugh and chat, but also is incredibly focused,” says Wellbaum. “His ears are magical.”
Slothrust shines particularly within its softer moments on the record. “Strange Astrology” is a stripped-down love song dedicated to Leah’s girlfriend of six years that meditates on astrological compatibility. The hymnal “Courtesy” ties into the record’s overall theme of spirituality and desire to feel connected. “I won’t ask you again if you give it to me/I won’t say it again if you get it the first time,” Leah sings.
While the majority of songs were written pre-pandemic, “A Giant Swallow” was not. The lullaby-like acoustic track unites the record and serves as a roadmap for Slothrust’s previous work, referencing lyrics spanning as early as their first record. Recalling the sweet harmonies of “Courtesy” and “Waiting,” Leah reflects on her search for the unified space. “I’ll return to the ocean/Return to the womb again/Inside of the Mother/Won’t have any questions then,” she sings with a gentle lilt.
Wellbaum continues to explore the labyrinth of consciousness and searches for solace and liberation within her own mind. With Parallel Timeline, she’s learned that on the journey of self-discovery, acceptance is key, and emotions and will only ever be understood if they are able to flow freely.
“I want to feel more like the ocean than the drop of water,” says Wellbaum. “I didn’t always want that. Now I do.”