March On, Comrade began as a completely different band called Ordinary Van. But when singer and main songwriter Paul Bates quit to move to California, the guys decided they wanted to continue. So Ryan Holquist, Charlie Davis and Chris Leonard got together with John Ptak and Ben Robinson and began March On, Comrade.Intentions were the same as before – to make great music – but they went down a different sonic road to get there. The pop inflections of Ordinary Van were still there knocking around in Comrade’s songs, but there were loftier ambitions for these five Fort Wayne guys. Longer songs, varied instrumentation and post-rock vastness emerged from the band’s rehearsals and writing process. Last year saw the release of their first, self-titled EP, and 2017 saw those lofty ambitions come to fruition with the band’s Sums & Differences show where the guys played live at the Arts Lab accompanied by a 12-piece chamber orchestra. The results were stunning.
We now have the band’s first full-length, the masterful, Our Peaceful Atoms. The self-produced, six-track album showcases all that came before it with a newfound tightness and attention to detail. With more instrumentation, brighter hooks and an airiness that gives the album a timeless quality, this could be one of the best releases to come out of the Fort in years.
I know that a lot of bands that fall under the post-rock moniker tend to cringe when put into that category, but if it fits it fits. I don’t see it as a knock in any sense. When you say post-rock, it evokes a big sky openness; vast spaces filled with shimmering guitars, tasteful keys, ethereal vocals; and orchestral-like drums that build to dramatic, crashing conclusions. The music evokes bigger questions, existential pondering and symphonic aspirations within the rock n’ roll world. March On, Comrade hit all the above while adding their own Midwest magic into the mix. That magic is pop hooks, ear worms that grab you and linger in your brain.
Our Peaceful Atoms revisits a few of the tracks the band debuted at their Sums & Differences show, but their studio curiosity has turned them into something newer and grander. “Terra” has the spatial beauty of Sigur Ros, while “Rodina” wavers on some ethereal plane like a sonic mashing of Explosions in the Sky and Auburn Lull. There’s a mechanical feel to this track as well, a meshing of both the organic and the man-made. “Path” continues those human vs. electronic elements to stunning effects. “Westlake” uses those pop hooks beautifully with Ptak creating near perfect melodic diversions in his vocals. The accompaniment of synths and strings only adds to the loftiness. “Lost” adds accordion courtesy of The Snarks’ Bart Helms, while last track, “Golden,” ends the album on a melancholy note with lilting strings and strummed acoustic.
March On, Comrade wanted to expand their sonic palate this time around, and I believe they succeeded. Tasteful orchestral accompaniments fit in perfectly with the chiming guitars, Ptak’s vocals and big rock drums which all go to make one of the best local releases of the year.
March On, Comrade will release Our Peaceful Atoms at their December 8 CD release show at the Brass Rail. Grab a copy at the show or head to marchoncomrade.bandcamp.com to grab a digital copy. (John Hubner)