With A Black Mile to the Surface, Manchester Orchestra comes almost frustratingly close to delivering the second complete masterpiece album of their career, but the places where it falls short of that distinction are important ones that leave the album further away than previous efforts since Mean Everything To Nothing. However, that does not mean the Atlanta band's fifth album is not an effort worthy of maintaining their status as one of the best Rock bands, not to mention frontman Andy Hull as one of the most singular and impressive creative voices in the game today. Nowhere is this more evident than on the album's second track, 'The Gold,' which is among the band's most remarkably beautiful efforts to date and belongs in the discussion of Hull's finest work.

When reflecting upon Manchester Orchestra’s place in the music landscape today, it is absolutely vital to take a step back to appreciate the band’s enviable accomplishments up to this point, taking into consideration their surprising youth. Despite Hull only being 30 years old, A Black Mile to the Surface is already the band’s fifth full-length album (sixth including Cope’s acoustic reimagining, Hope), starting with their powerful 2006 debut I’m Like a Virgin Losing a Child and 2009 breakthrough masterpiece follow-up Mean Everything to Nothing.

Hull is absolutely a much older man at heart than his actual age, though, and this fact is abundantly clear on every moment of A Black Mile To The Surface. The album is Hull’s first since becoming a father, and this momentous change in his life manifests itself in his increased self-reflection and musical calculation. At its best, the resulting compositions are remarkably heartfelt, exposed, and touching.

The primary issue with A Black Mile to the Surface as a whole comes down to momentum. Throughout the album there are small multi-song progressions that build upon each other beautifully. However, this momentum is undercut on several instances. Where Manchester Orchestra has previously shown an almost unmatched ability to build to and flow from multiple massive three to four song crescendos within an album, these moments on A Black Mile to the Surface feel more singular.

It is clear that Hull’s songwriting on this album took great focus on building songs up to sweeping and cinematic heights, and there are many of these to be had. What is ultimately missing, though, are those Manchester Orchestra songs, like ‘Shake It Out’ off Mean Everything to Nothing, that strap the listener to a rocket and propelled the album toward the eventual crescendo moment. Instead, things tend to slow back down and build back up again from nothing.

Worse, though, is the baffling halt of momentum created by the inclusion of ‘The Sunshine’ as a meandering interlude of sorts between what would be the perfectly-paired ‘The Alien’ and ‘The Grocery’. This jarring sequence’s place in the middle of A Black Mile to the Surface, after a strong first half, starts the push toward the end of the album of a bad foot. These songs are still undoubtedly worthy efforts on their own, but never feel connected as the building blocks of a great Manchester Orchestra album.

For an album as stripped down, scaled back, and introspectively personal as A Black Mile to the Surface, there are also moments throughout the album where would-be powerful moments are not allowed the space to breathe necessary for them to land as they should. This is most clearly shown on ‘The Mistake’, where spacey keys and vocals tag the end of lines that should be allowed to ring.

A Black Mile to the Surface is far from a bad album. In fact, it’s a solid album that at times achieves remarkably beautiful and powerful things. However, it does not hold up to the unbelievably high bar set by Manchester Orchestra’s previous work. That said, though, the heights of the album do more to show the potential the band has in moving this direction than the hiccups do to detract from it.

A Black Mile to the Surface is not ultimately the kind of cohesive and singularly classic album that Manchester Orchestra has shown the ability to create. However, the bold new steps Andy Hull and company take on it seem likely to be the building blocks upon which they build their next classic.