I was wondering after months of teases by Aaron Marshall where Intervals, his one-man instrumental band, was going to go with its next effort. Being a big fan of his last album, The Shape of Colour, I wanted that same feeling of magic with a new album smell. While I basically got what I wanted, I wonder what music genie heard my wish and took my words a little too literally in granting them. With The Way Forward, we get more Intervals, which on the surface is great; but where the band’s last effort signaled a subtle reinvention, this album is too comfortable with doing more of the same, valuing stagnation over progression overall.
What does work without a doubt is Marshall’s tones in both performing and writing on the guitar. He’s always had an upbeat sound that doesn’t often venture into technical, showy wank. There’s a deliberate mood established, sunny in nature. The Way Forward has that in spades, as made evident by opening track and lead single, “Touch and Go”. Fast riffing and tremolo accents paint a song that’s liable to get stuck in your head for the day. In the same way “I’m Awake” was a gatecrasher for The Shape of Colour, this track is aggressively fun and upbeat just like it. It’s a good way to introduce your album, I like it.
Since this is guitar-focused instrumental music, writers and performers have a distinct goal: making the guitar the voice of the music, which takes more than flashy riffs and flying through scales at a blistering pace. “Belvedere” is easily my favorite track in this regard. The melodies are very pretty, the riffing is buttery smooth and has some jazzy vibes in some places, reminiscent of early Joe Satriani work. It’s a reserved track that I wasn’t expecting to grab me as much as it did. In contrast, “Leave No Stone” is a nice change, as it’s a little heavier than the rest of the album, some riffs having a meaty chug to them especially at the beginning. The midsection of the track is still par for the course, but at the end the heaviness returns with some nice bass work that thickens things up. It reminds me of how Animals as Leaders‘ The Joy of Motion ended with “Nephele”, complete with the fadeout at the end and everything.
The album only being eight songs, and around a half-hour long works well in its favor, since it doesn’t overstay its welcome too long. Even still, The Way Forward is a hard sell to someone that isn’t already a fan of the happy instrumental guitar work that Intervals and peers like Sithu Aye and Plini offer. Perhaps the biggest offense with this album is that a couple songs sound too similar to others and don’t reach quite the same heights or change things up where they could have.
“Impulsively Responsible” as a follow-up to “Touch and Go” was especially rough. The track takes things down a couple pegs from the fiery opener, but there isn’t much there aside from the melody in the recurring riff that stuck out. “A Different Light” and “By Far and Away” lack their own identities; “Belvedere” utilized lower tempos better than both, and they lack the catchiness that nearly every other song has. Songs like these aren’t necessarily bad, but pale considerably in comparison.
Although this is seemingly the same stuff we know this band for (and that alone should satiate fans such as me), we run into the problem that a lot of these bands face: it’s simply not progressive enough considering past efforts. I commend Intervals for clearly trying to build a brand and sound and run with it, but in doing that, this album sounds more like The Shape of Colour part two than its own entity. Did I enjoy it overall? Of course, and I know others will too! Ultimately, I just wasn’t captivated by this nearly as much as I was by The Shape of Colour when I first heard it. The Way Forward ends up sounding more like a pit stop located just outside the limits of the band’s previous work, not a newly-blazed trail for Intervals to play with. Sometimes playing it straight is enough – some bands make entire careers from that – but I wanted more.
Notable Tracks: “Touch and Go”, “Belvedere”, “Rubicon Artist”
FFO: Plini, Sithu Aye, Animals as Leaders