(self released, 2013)
I reviewed Opens, the most recent album from Mitch Myers’ main gig, Hear Hums, not too long ago, and now here he is, stepping away from bandmate Kenzie Cooke as Peace Arrow, as logical a progression from the Hums as there could possibly be. But as Opens was nearly wordless, Myers has focused much more on vocals on ↑↓↑↓, which, actually, is the eponymous title of the album, albeit in graphical form. Words work for him, and how he weaves his vocals into the music fills out his vision begun in his other outfit.
And oh, the music – I’m not going to shy away from the really easy comparison that I made in my review for Opens, which is that Peace Arrow is of a radically similar stylistic mind to Phil Elverum and his output as The Microphones and Mount Eerie. What’s great, though, is that while you can listen to ↑↓↑↓ and say, “Oh, yeah, this reminds me of that,” the field, fortunately, is wide open for experimentation, and while Myers uses similar tricks and sounds – acoustic guitar, synthesizer and keyboard elements, found sound, seemingly rickety rhythm, multitracking – he’s definitely embraced his own delivery, striking a path much more akin to his Gainesville, Florida, locale than Elverum’s Anacortes, Washington, Pac-NW forest-gazing. Swamp-gazing, then? Nah, I know better – we call ’em marshes this far north.
Anyway, like Elverum’s, Myers’ experimental bedroom compositions are wildly endearing, carefully manufactured with intricate personal detail, allowing us listeners a glimpse inside his psyche. He’s got a knack for layers, as well as understanding how they can play off each other in unorthodox ways, masquerading acoustic guitar compositions in complex arrangements and passing them off as epics in miniature. And he’s really freaking good at it. There’s not a wasted moment throughout the first four songs, as opener “Broken Bridge,” within its six minutes, meanders from back-porch folk to pastoral, dare I say, post rock, to shaky indie rock-ish exposition, culminating in about a minute of ambient bliss. It’s a powerful opening statement from a guy who’s done this a bit before, as if he’s grabbing at a last chance to explode in our faces – well, in his own way, not literally.
Perhaps the one thing Peace Arrow is quite adept at is layering the possibilities inherent in rhythm. While Myers admits that he’s more interested in following certain conventions on this album than he was on previous records, I don’t think he can help himself crafting remarkable passages that move flawlessly from one to another on the backs of deliberately crafted patterns, some seemingly at odds with others, but strangely fitting together like pieces to a puzzle to reveal a larger whole. (This is another thing that Elverum is especially good at; see for example the recently reissued The Glow Pt. 2.) So when a song threatens to stumble off track – like “Broken Bridge” or the ambitiously shambolic ten-minute opus and album centerpiece “Running Away” – Myers, while not necessarily quick to rein in the elements, always finds himself doing just that at some point, where it makes the most possible sense. This happens from song to song as well, so the track breaks are harder to discern if you’re not paying attention, lending a weight to the entire album rather than its separate movements.
But ↑↓↑↓ is more than well executed, it’s a concept record of sorts. Take it from Myers himself: “[The songs] reflect a general feeling of hopelessness many of us find ourselves facing when our bosses steal our wages and call it profits, when our landlords micro-manage our lives then steal our security deposits, and the sick anguish we feel when we cannot control other people. … I hope people can connect with [these] stories but in a way that lifts them up.” And ↑↓↑↓ weirdly feels like a meditation on this type of anger, even though it’s not presented in such a way that would immediately suggest it. But there’s a sense of it throughout, such as the repeatedly bellowed appeal of “Find your place!” in “Doors.” But Myers also brings it around to cautious hope, especially on the upbeat “Turn Back” where he lumps greed and comfort together and decries both as a “blindfold” to how we’re fucking up as a human race. “Gems” is his “happy ending,” wherein he rejects material wealth (in the form of actual gems) by repeating “I don’t need this,” alluding to both the luxury and obsession that comes with the territory.
Again, like Elverum, Myers is a naturalist at heart, and as such would almost certainly find more joy in the outdoors than within civilization. He has an obvious disdain for actions and practices predicated upon greed and lust, and chooses harmonious interaction in the end. That’s all well and good – in the hands of someone like Myers, a ponderous conceit like “mother nature vs. human nature” could come off clunky and ill-formed, but as Peace Arrow, he wraps his head, and ours, around the actual conflicting thoughts that hopefully lead to a better outcome. And the fact that he does it so artistically is an added bonus.
RIYL: The Microphones, Hear Hums, Lucky Dragons, early Modest Mouse, earlier Animal Collective