Following their acclaimed 2021 album The Million Masks of God, Manchester Orchestra is back with The Valley of Vision, a brand new project that takes on the weighty themes of adulthood, faith and redemption through a wealth of fresh new sounds and textures. But if The Million Masks of God served as a cry for help - exploring a man’s encounter with the angel of death, inspired by frontman and songwriter Andy Hull’s reflections on grief as well as the battle with cancer faced by guitarist Robert McDowell’s father - The Valley of Vision offers a collective, cathartic expression of gratitude. Throughout the 27-minute album, you can almost feel the band take a giant exhale and then put its arms around you.
Continuing to push themselves into fascinating and immersive creative realms with each release has always been the mantra for Manchester Orchestra, and The Valley of Vision finds the band reinvigorated once again. Across the six-song salvo and VR film out March 10th, the band conjures a story that is further illuminated through a cinematic experience by writer-director Isaac Deitz, created with 3D-computed radiography technology.
Hull started writing and recording The Valley of Vision in the summer of 2021, sparking a spontaneous and new approach to releasing his band's music. “Making this was an exciting idea of what the future could be for us in terms of how we create.”
Hull was inspired to begin writing the record while rummaging around in his suitcase looking for his lyric notebook and instead found The Valley of Vision, a 1975 book of old Puritan prayers his mom had given to him the previous Christmas. “I realized it should be our title too, because to me, it meant you can’t see the forest for the trees, but you’re recognizing you’re in the valley, and you can eventually get out,” he says.
Sonically, those energies evoke places Manchester Orchestra has visited on prior albums without ever really setting up a permanent home. In fact, there’s not much guitar at all on The Valley of Vision, and Andy Prince’s bass operates in sub-synth frequencies rarely utilized before. In other instances, drum parts by Tim Very were excised from one song and repurposed in other places they weren’t originally intended to go. The whole feeling is one of peacefulness, even zen — perhaps because recording sessions at a converted manor in Muscle Shoals, Ala., were “almost a complete abandonment of all the instruments we’re used to using,” Hull says.
“None of these songs were written with the band being in the same room in a live setting,” he continues. “They were really like science experiments that started from the bottom and were added to gradually over time, to catch the vibe of each one.”
Opener “Capital Karma” and “Quietly” are both songs Hull composed via his idiosyncratic self-taught methods on piano, which involve him physically writing notes on the keys to remind himself what he’s actually playing. “The Way” is a beautifully atmospheric, piano-and-beats-powered ballad, which Hull credits Million Masks producers Ethan Gruska and Catherine Marks with helping him shape after struggling for years with how to present it.
Elsewhere, the uplifting “Lose You Again” is the first Manchester Orchestra song in a long time that could be played with acoustic guitars around a campfire, while “Letting Go” threads wisps of emotive, effects-drenched vocals through gorgeous shimmers of sound.
“We decided, let’s live in that feeling,” Hull says. “When we tried to add anything that took us out of it, it started to feel contrived and forced. We try to listen to our instincts when it comes to that. As far as just going for some of the sounds, we’re intrigued by doing things the wrong way or attempting things we haven’t done before and getting inspired by them.”