After putting behind him the heavily djent-infused sound of Intervals’s first two Eps, and the foray into vocal experimentation of A Voice Within, Marshall truly hit his stride with 2015’s The Shape of Colour. Now, Intervals are back with another saccharine sojourn into the world of guitar wizardry. But does it hold up and capitalize on the promise of the previous release? The answer is yes and no. Project mastermind Aaron Marshall has suggested that nostalgia inspired much of the new album’s sound. However, this theme has perhaps been too readily pursued, as this release is the first from Intervals to remember its predecessor a little too fondly.
This record saw Intervals return to a one man show, and was an unexpectedly upbeat and playful release packed with one irresistibly catchy tune after another; The Way Forward in many ways doubles down on the sound pioneered by The Shape of Colour. Chock full of slick riffs, intoxicating melodies and lush harmonies, it’s fortunate the eight songs only clock in at around half an hour because the album is a relentless aural assault. In keeping with past releases, the staggering musicianship on this record is clearly made with guitarists in mind, but Intervals never alienate the casual listener. Every song, despite its technical showmanship, is constructed with composition at its heart, and dizzying flurries of notes are invariably juxtaposed with deceptively simple hooks to reel back anyone lost in the musical whirlwind.
The similarities with The Shape of Colour mean Intervals fans certainly won’t be disappointed by The Way Forward, but many of the elements that made the previous album so surprising and compelling are thin on the ground. Listeners looking for upbeat riffs, bright, sparkling tones and obnoxiously catchy hooks will find these elements in significantly mellower flavours. The tracks generally feel warmer and more laid back, which helps to add a touch of melancholy to Intervals’s predominantly euphoric tone, and lends itself to the nostalgic vibe of the project. The slick production quality of the album also softens the distorted guitars and allows warm base tones to shine through. Alongside the punchy drums and understated synths, this record strikes a perfect instrumental balance which makes it deceptively easy to play again and again, even if it might come across as a little too polished for some ears.
Standout tracks include album-opener, “Touch and Go”, which channels The Shape of Colour’s sound most conspicuously. A frenzied barrage of dazzlingly leads and contagious hooks, all driven forward by monstrous grooves – this will be a clear favourite among existing Intervals fans. At the other end of the spectrum is “Belvedere”; possibly the most understated and sleek track Intervals have ever released and yet also one of their most memorable. Clearly drawing influence from artists like Plini, Polyphia and Chon, but also crafting a sound that is uniquely Intervals, it would have been nice to have seen more tracks take this direction. Other songs incorporate new elements which give the album fresh moments, such as the Latin-style grooves smattered throughout “A Different Light” or the electronic interlude in “By Far and Away”. The latter also channels a strong jazzy vibe a la Animals as Leaders or Snarky Puppy, and is fleshed out by synth lines that really drive home the nostalgic 80s theme. Moments like the quick ascending stabs around 3:30 are also combined with rapid arpeggiated synths and choppy staccato leads to evoke something like a retro video-game soundtrack.
“Leave No Stone” closes the album in top form with a truly infectious groove, but other attempts to hark back to the band’s djent roots leave a little to be desired in terms of creativity. This is indicative of the album’s tendency to rely too heavily on Intervals’s established sounds, and means that many songs fail to be memorable at all. Overall, this is a strong release and existing fans will certainly not be disappointed. Top-notch production quality makes it a joy to listen to, and it is full of subtle ear-worms that will bring listeners back again and again. However, questions will be raised about what is next for Intervals. The album provides a flavour of sounds to come but rests on the laurels of its predecessor a little too much. Whether Marshall finds a way to better explore these fresh flavours or remains complacent in his established sound will ultimately determine the way forward for Intervals.
The Way Forward is out now and available for purchase through the band’s Bandcamp page, and is available on all major streaming services.