The Arches are a prolific instrumental rock band based in Minneapolis, MN. They unashamedly take a ‘quantity over quality’ approach to their eye-watering release schedule, having released well over 40 albums in the last year. They base each release around a general concept, which they aim to portray and develop through a set of short instrumental songs. One concept in particular came in the form of light reflecting off a table, which illuminated a nearby wall and ceiling with a plethora of abstract patterns. Additionally, the band members also saw the concept of reflecting light as a metaphor for a set of hopes and dreams they experienced whilst on a recent road trip from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. As they headed into the studio to record their 45th album, they aimed to capture the history behind the various places and memories of the journey. The resulting product, ‘Luminance’, excellently portrays not only a great visual concept, but also a band with a very well-channeled sonic identity.
Sampled speech and a disco drum beat ambiguously open the album, before easing into the main body of ‘Play a Record’. This track has a great classic rock feel to it and is led by a helplessly catchy guitar riff. Particular praise goes to bassist/keyboardist Nina Blade for a brilliantly-written bass part. She provides a great four-on-the-floor feel to the track with her more staccato style of playing, whilst incorporating some melodically-sound and well chosen fills. This provides solid infrastructure to glue the more funk-inspired guitar parts together and enables the band to effectively transition from section to section. This shows a fantastic sense of musicianship as well as great attention to detail.
A reprise of the sampled speech concludes the track, effectively leading us into the piano-led ‘Calamity Jane’. The arrangement on this track is much sparser; a cycling piano riff is accompanied by a repetitive drum loop, before being joined by jangly clean guitar and melodic bass. This track has a great lullaby feel to it and interestingly made me think of sunlight reflecting off a sandy beach. This displays good attention to detail regarding the album’s concept and shows the band have a good ability to translate their ideas into music.
‘New Harmony Falls’ is based around a duo of chord progressions on rhythm guitar under a laid-back drum groove. My attention turns to rhythm guitarist Nova Williams’ choice of tone, which is very suitable for the track. The tone is jangly, full-bodied and moderately distorted, allowing it to sit well in the mix and fit in with the band’s lullaby-like sound. This again shows a brilliant sense of musicianship and indicates the band have clearly taken the time to source appropriate tones during the recording process.
‘What Would It Take’ opens with a sampled door knock and sees a return of the classic rock influence explored on the opening track. The arrangement is carried by a thundering tom beat, which I thought effectively filled out the midrange frequencies and provided a great ambling feel to the track. At this point, my attention turns to the band’s sonic identity, which is very well-focused and thoroughly-channeled. Whilst the band admit to taking a ‘quantity over quality’ approach, they certainly have a whole host of signature traits and have managed to carve out a sound that’s unmistakably ‘The Arches’. They make use of catchy lead guitar work, lullaby-like material and wonderfully-melodic basslines. The album also features sampled speech throughout, which I thought effectively connected the songs and provided a real sense of consistency to the project.
‘The Mechanic’ features an interesting set of industrial-sounding samples over a more ambiguous chord progression. However, the band manage to retain their signature melodic bass part and catchy lead guitar work, again showing a good adherence to their well-channeled sonic identity. The track also features a great use of some dissonant brass synth parts, which I thought showed a new dimension of the band’s sound and provided a nice sense of variety at the midway point of the album.
‘Wrote This for the Money’ truly showcases the band’s “better done than perfect” motto; out of tune guitars work around a diatonic chord progression, whilst a more simple bass part and drum beat accompanies. Whilst the out of tune guitar parts took a little getting used to, I actually thought this provided a real sense of charm to the arrangement. The band are proud of their approach and the guitar tracks give a great insight into the chemistry and ethos of the band members, which I think is a vital aspect of an ensemble’s success.
‘Uptown Lights’ features a more psychedelic flavour, complete with warping lead guitar work and fuzzed-out synth parts. At this point, my attention turns to the album’s production, which is overall very suited to their genre. Despite the band’s approach, the majority of tracks are very well-recorded and it’s clear the band have taken the time to obtain appropriate tones and takes at the source. The mixing and mastering is also good, taking on a more dry feel with all frequencies and levels being well-balanced. There’s also a consistent feel to the production from track to track, which again shows good attention to detail.
‘We Are Here For Us’ brings the band’s sonic identity full circle by reprising each of their signature traits. Lullaby-like piano and guitar open the track, before melodic bass and a simple drum part accompanies. Ultimately, the track left me feeling very satisfied and keen to hear more from the band. Whilst they may unashamedly cut corners and prioritise the quantity of their output over the quality, this in fact contributes to a fantastic sonic identity and provides a real sense of authenticity to their music. Thoroughly recommended for any fans of instrumental, lo-fi or chill out music.