Review Summary: Exactly as expected.
If anyone is searching for a discussion that can truly incite fervent, potentially vitriolic speech, look no further than making a genre health check. Sure, it may be fun to poke the bear at family dinners by mentioning current political discourse, and expressing an opinion on religion is sure to get grandma running for the paddle. However, in a world starving for originality, why settle for tired Catholic gags and Republican jokes? They’ll make fools of themselves in due time anyways, so strive for that which is less observed by the general public: post-rock is decaying. This decree is uttered sporadically, although with each calendar year providing innumerable imitations of the crescendo-core formula, it approaches the status of being a universal truth. A battle line can still be drawn, for when post-rock does
manage to produce a highlight, it often possesses enough excitement to remind even the most ardent detractors of the power the category is capable of purveying. Post-rock dads the world over—have to be some at this stage, I reckon—were given ample ammunition previously with the latest opus by Crippled Black Phoenix, the captivating atmosphere of the record an ideal encapsulation of the field’s strongest characteristics. Those desiring to fire back can rest easy knowing that March On, Comrade have successfully reset the cycle, and the potentially vitriolic speech can still be obtained. In a manner similar to many youthful post-rock acts, there is nothing necessarily wrong with the Indiana group, with their third release as a band certainly containing traits that make it engaging. When probing for egregious flaws, it is difficult to list many at all. Where the Fort Wayne collective comes short, however, is exactly where post-rock has fallen short for years now: they do not go far enough. The all-too familiar envelope remains un-pushed in favor of desirable safety. A strong foundation is in place, yet March On cannot provide a listener more than this, leaving behind a heap of untapped potential.
The greatest strength of post-rock has always lied in its ability to portray any atmosphere of its choosing. At its highest point, the genre is an exploration of all a guitar is capable of demonstrating, employing evocative timbres to illustrate sprawling landscapes, every note a brush stroke that splashes color or dampens the sun. Judging only by appearances, March On are adept at adopting an aesthetic that can imbue a sense of emotion in a given track. Featuring electronic influence and the addition of a vocal contribution, the Indiana group merge together to present a style that relishes in soft, soothing textures, the guitars exhibiting polished melodies that accentuate their bright chords. Ambience from the keys contributes to filling in the space, adding the finer details to the scenery, contributing greatly to the mood that the record leans into. Packaged in a dreamy production, the strings make up for a potential lack of punch by embracing the wistful disposition, allowing delicate strumming to carry the short disc onwards. Layered on top is an equally calming singing performance to gently usher the listener through the created soundscapes. An airy, somewhat melancholic baritone, the vocal inclusion increases the depth past what was already present, sailing unobstructed on cascading riffs and the tender ebb and flow of the rhythm section. The primary objective becomes that of serenity, focusing on restraint to bring about a sense of peace.
This reserved system—understated arrangements as opposed to bombastic climaxes—is highly effective when it plays to its strengths. Proper opening number “Credulous” excels the most in this regard, doubling down on the modus operandi of the group, showcasing exactly what March On can accomplish. A resonating, buzzing synth line dominates the introduction, the dual guitars creeping in the background before the drumming begins to push the entry forward. The piano maintains control underneath the oncoming singing portion, the breathy tone complimenting the lurking tremolo and the dramatic aura of the keys. Supported by an echoing bass, the refrain that rises from this setting snatches a degree of authority not frequently encountered in the record’s duration, aided in no small part by the commanding baritone singing that calls above it. When climbing to achieve a pinnacle, the group manages to do so with surprising ease, allowing the crashing of cymbals to rain down upon the listener, matching amicably with the accompanying string passages. Though beginning on a more urgent foray, The Architect of Such Brilliant Lines
maneuvers gracefully into the more subdued “Subsist,” and it is in the artful control placed upon the tune that makes it a highlight. Amidst static and electronic ambience, unassuming strumming and backing acoustics slowly announce their presence, an otherworldly mystique defining the track. The carefree baritone is the ideal complement to this, quickly cementing its beautiful atmosphere. March On sound incredibly comfortable here when exercising their commendable patience in intriguing ways, never attempting to be something they aren’t.
What often damages a limited approach like the one on The Architect of Such Brilliant Lines
is that it becomes too consumed by its aesthetic. A pronounced concentration on the ethereal fails to sustain compositions, leading them to either sound too similar to one another or fail to offer anything particularly exciting. Success in these instances hinges on whether or not the atmosphere is robust enough to support the disc and prevent tracks from drifting off into nothingness. On a tune such as “Subsist,” it’s entirely possible to float away into an imaginary sunset, coasting along clouds as the atmosphere works its charm. Following after this are a duo of endeavors that unfortunately commit that common flaw of blending; neither “Shame” nor “Arroyo” are unique enough to diverge from the motifs grounded in the prior two cuts. The majority of “Shame” is spent wandering about a repetitive riff before diving into an unenthusiastic culmination. Driven by the aesthetic that once assisted “Subsist” to great effect, the number fails to capitalize, the guitars in the initial half coming across as droning rather than tranquil. It receives a fairly sturdy accumulation thanks to an augmented percussion performance, yet subsequent cut “Arroyo” collapses into a tepid section that leaves the weaknesses of the singing contribution bare; the airy technique applied is stoutest when soaring alongside the ether of a song. If it has to carry a verse on its own merits, it sounds only serviceable, with somewhat of a whine to its quality. Exactly how “Shame” lived and died off of its overreliance on March On’s fabricated mood, “Arroyo” falters, strolling about unexciting choruses that go nowhere while simultaneously missing out on the ambience that seemed so omnipresent earlier.
Further hampering the album is the songwriting itself, as the collective has a tendency to inscribe against their core traits. In a mix that promotes limitation over the grandiose, the few climactic moments that emerge are simply deficient in the kick that would ordinarily boost their memorability. A comparatively muted rhythm section cannot bring a booming bass to the fray, nor can it supply thunderous drumming. Similarly, when designated to a role that emphasizes quietude at the cost of possible intensity, the guitars aren’t built to establish a crushing finale. These shortcomings are evident in the aforementioned “Shame” and “Arroyo,” with the latter’s in particular looking as a forced conclusion as opposed to an organic zenith. It would be fitting to concentrate on the journey, which was a methodology “Credulous” and “Subsist” excelled at, stressing the environment and dressing up the finer minutiae. Proceedings simply become far too linear and predictable beyond that point, and as the atmosphere descends into the rearview mirror, it is difficult to concoct reasons why to return to The Architect of Such Brilliant Lines
. The post-rock scene, already crowded by laptop warriors that just heard their first Sigur Ros LP and the latest bedroom crescendo-core project, cannot champion a release that shows promise, yet once again regresses into rehearsed motions. There are undeniably heaps of potential laden in the brief existence of March On’s third completed work as a band. Underutilizing their opportunities, as has been done here, will continuously relegate them to the sidelines of a category struggling to get off the bench. A future effort could very well become the defense the genre craves at dinner tables the world over, but they’ve yet to push themselves into an upper echelon.