Align in Time - Me & My Arrow
Record Label: Independent
Release Date: December 13, 2011
Most often, post-rock naturally branches out into other less accessible forms of ambient soundscapes, with lo-fi, chillwave, psychedelia, and drone being prime examples. Because of this, it is not uncommon for all the artists diversifying their sound via this method to label themselves with the "progressive" or "experimental" identifiers simply due to a lack of accessibility. I recall a well-known user facetiously commenting that "there's nothing more experimental than delay-drenched guitars, some programming, and a severe lack of hooks". With all the crowding and despite the very good songwriting, one can be hard-pressed to find something different enough amongst these groups to justify anything more than enjoyment in passing. In my mind this begs a certain question: What happens when post-rock turns to a more accessible form instead? Align in Time's (the solo project of John Boles) debut album serves as a fitting example of how the less complex can often be just as groundbreaking and engaging as the more so.
In essence, Me & My Arrow's identity is captured in the way it combines alternative rock and post-rock influences into a lively and engaging escape. Every layer from the lead guitar down to the percussion showcases this specific formula in some form or fashion. At the same time, both components are not homogenized and remain individually recognizable, sort of like mixing oil and water, and drawing an interesting parallel with the album art. The song structure throughout Me & My Arrow relies heavily on repetition of melodic alternations, creating a catchy and relaxing wave inside the listener's mind. Bass work is sparse, and for once this is actually appropriate, as the rhythm and lead guitars are meant to do all the talking. Another interesting facet regarding the entire album is that the rhythm section is very strum heavy, creating a thick and powerful wall of sound to be paired with the striking post-rock crescendos, while at the same time creating soaring riffs and jams to preface the crescendos. What I find most interesting about the guitar work is that signature post-rock builds are present, but they are joined by one of the aforementioned hook riffs to create their own unique moment of pleasure to the ear. In addition, the builds are extremely short and at many points during the album we are happily presented with a long and epic plateau to the climax, which only contains an uptick in the intensity just strong enough to be sensitive of. Lastly, the percussion serves as an adept metronome for the listener, guiding the mood between post-rock and alternative rock with ease despite the mostly static mood of the guitar work, and also contains some very interesting double bass work.
Now that the overall nature of the songwriting has been evaluated, the next thing to take a look at is the theme and atmosphere of the album, and how each track contributes to it. In my eyes, Me & My Arrow is the quintessential album for a seaside sunset, as it is bright, colorful, temperate, and most of all, fluid. "Ruins" starts us off with a poignant and lush appeal to the heartstrings in the vein of early The Appleseed Cast. It then transitions into "The Many Faces", the album's longest track, starting off with a twinkly jam, exploding into a crescendo and maintaining the earlier melody into one of the album's signature rhythm walls and lead solos and finishes with a plateaued climax that contains uniquely captivating rhythm work. "I Can Count All My Bones" contains plenty of its own unique riffs and more of those beautifully moving rhythm walls, while "Stories" by and large serves as an interlude, setting the tone for the vibrant and motivating "Men Without Chests". This track is undoubtedly the album's vitality and pure essence, combining just the right amount of all attributes: the catchy riffs, the strong rhythm section, and two opening and closing crescendos that will blow you away. If it's any indication, when we streamed the song in an Unsigned Spotlight, I was able to play it back to back for over an hour for several days and never once got bored. It takes everything Mae, Saosin, and Moonlit Sailor fans love and combines it all into a neat little package of euphoria. That said, "Men Without Chests" doesn't overshadow the rest of the album at all, despite it being unmatched.
We continue with "Scarecrow", which just as "Men Without Chests" did, provides us with one of the beautifully executed percussion junctions between alternative rock and post-rock as it transitions into "Run Home". In addition, "Scarecrow" includes some very powerful and speedy synthesizer melodies, giving another layer of definition to its already slamming arrangement. "Run Home" is the most textured track on the album, and contains the only true spot where the post-rock and alternative rock rivalry actually fuses into something entirely different. It is already a fitting closure, but the final track to consider is the bonus track, "Nothing Hours", which was written in fragments by 15 of John Boles' family and friends and then arranged into a track. It takes its place as a sleepy conclusion to the seaside adventure which the rest of the album presents.
If you're wondering why I went so far in depth with this album as opposed to my usual norm, that's because it's my album of the year. It's been a long time since another album resonated so much with me, as they are often very few and far between. Even rarer, however, is when one comes across an album like this that combines several revered sounds into something familiar, yet altogether different, while still containing all the appealing aspects of its influences. Needless to say, if you're familiar with my tastes and align to them, Me & My Arrow will be as perfect for you as it is for me. If you're not, try it anyway, I insist. It's beautiful, captivating, accessible but not excessively basic, and as such would be something a variety of palates could enjoy.