Review Summary: Moving forward on the beaten path
Within the realm of instrumental bedroom prog, Intervals had always presented themselves as one of the more aggressive options. By the time of their first LP, A Voice Within
, contemporaries such as Plini, Chon, and Polyphia were honing on an upbeat sound that would come to characterize their corner of the room. A Voice Within
, however, chugged along in its minor keys and even employed a vocalist, breaking away from genre conventions. It wasn’t as if the album’s instrumentals couldn’t shine on their own - they showed sparks of innovation in the Latin-inspired passages of “Moment Marauder”, and demonstrated standard bedroom-prog virtuosity (e.g. rapid execution of scales and rhythm shifts). The Shape of Colour
, then, took one step closer to Intervals’ peers; though it maintained its predecessor’s snappiness, the band’s sophomore effort didn’t hesitate to play with a lighter mood. Riffs still bit down with force, never sinking in the exact same place twice.
With The Way Forward
, it’s apparent to me that Intervals have lost teeth. But this pales in comparison to the fact that Intervals have also suffered further identity loss. This record situates them ever so closer to the centre of the upbeat prog Venn diagram, if some acts can even be called prog at this point. Polyphia’s glucose-rush noodling mixes into a Sithu Aye who only sets course for the moon instead of Andromeda. The Way Forward
reins in runs that would have wandered further on The Shape of Colour
; it opts for more leisurely park strolls than exploration of the surrounding forest. Nonetheless, to Intervals’ credit, they haven’t undergone full dental extraction. The Way Forward
still attacks with more vehemence than, say, 2017 Chon. This isn’t to detract from Chon, who pulled off an album that was tailor-made for summer relaxation; it’s that Intervals just can’t do the same thing, and have historically distinguished themselves through their quick bite. “Belvedere” is proof that Intervals need to improve their mid-tempo writing - when they try to muster their best cheeriness-meets-chillness impression, it comes off as derivative and listless. I hear the same motif echoing for five minutes straight, never once getting off its seat on a slow ride.
The Way Forward
merits points for incorporating electronic elements in a way that differs from prior releases. Synth usage is hit-and-miss, but at least it’s evidence of experimentation. On one hand, the whining synths of “Impulsively Responsible” clash with the song’s low-end. On the other hand, “Rubicon Artist” is Intervals at their most energized on the entire record, and it thrills. “Rubicon Artist” evokes retro video game music, moving at full throttle with a keyboard tone not dissimilar from that of chiptune. I also find it heart-warming that Intervals haven’t eschewed the two quirks which I enjoyed the most about previous albums: a dance track and jazz influences. “A Different Light” brings in the Latin harmonies and syncopation, adding much needed spice; “By Far and Away” enlists the help of fellow prog musician Owane, providing piano and distinctly jazzy progressions that stick out. There’s the short run that continues to ascend even as you expect it to stop; there’s the respite which lets the keyboard instruments breathe and assert their importance.
Songs which play it safe do the job, though “Leave No Stone” ending the album on a fadeaway represents how inoffensive The Way Forward
tries to be. It’s an undignified exit, slinking away in an attempt to not disrupt. The words to describe the bulk of songs on the record are “good enough” - they carry enough momentum, enough technicality, enough pep to be passable members of Intervals’ discography. Intervals’ strain of progressive music has, at its core, a lively spirit, and no matter the current trend that they follow, I find it unlikely that they could give up this component. However, I can’t shake off the feeling that The Way Forward
contains weaker facsimiles of The Shape of Colour
, an issue especially noticeable in “The Waterfront”. It doesn’t draw upon any particular external influence, and it also fails to capture the drive of Intervals’ best work, leaving it without any identity or purpose.
The Way Forward
, as a release within the prog world, will suffice. It hasn’t abandoned a sense of direction, though Intervals is moving closer to the beaten path. The band have some choices: diversify further, a la “Rubicon Artist” or “By Far and Away”, or also focus on older elements which separated them from the pack, in the vein of “A Different Light”. Should they rest on their laurels, they may continue to float, but they will have been further swallowed up in their pool of prog acts.