Moreso than on past releases, Matchless Years finds Aarktica expanding from what is essentially a one-man operation with a couple guest appearances into a more fleshed-out group of players. The key person behind the group is still Jon DeRosa, but this time out he's joined by Aaron Spectre (Drumcorps), Kendall Meade (Mascott), and Gretta Cohn (Cursive), among others. The eight song, forty-minute release is also the most pop-oriented release to date by Aarktica, featuring prominent vocals from DeRosa on more than half the tracks and the most fleshed-out instrumentation from the group yet.
In many ways, it feels like the more logical sequel to his excellent Or You Could Just Go Through Your Whole Life and Be Happy Anyway, (still my favorite release from Aarktica to date) which was followed by several releases with more ambient leanings. It kicks off with the gorgeous "Seventy Jane," which mixes repeated chiming guitar lines with soft blasts of shimmering electric guitar as a sturdy rhythm section lurches into action appropriately. The biggest noticeable difference, though, are the vocals of DeRosa, which have been good in the past but here sound much more assured, soaring with an almost 50s crooner vibe that fits nicely amid the more modern track.
"I Name You Sleep" takes things back a notch, with cello, soft percussion, and female backing vocals (from Meade) turning the warm track into a vocal-driven lullaby. "Arms" is another total standout, building from a quiet beginning into a stomping, dance-pop track with billowing horns, thick curls of overlapping guitars, and what is quite possibly DeRosa's best vocal performance to date.
Unfortunately, there are a couple languid instrumentals on the release that take up a good deal of running time while sticking the album in a bit of a rut at the same time. "Summer Tabla Dub" runs over six minutes and treads through a fairly standard post rock progression with a bit of the title percussion thrown in for flair, while the seven-plus minute album closer "Rooftop Films" certainly isn't bad (with warm layers of droning guitar, cello, and distant drums), but makes the album go out with a whimper after some truly outstanding moments. It's clear that DeRosa has really found his voice on Matchless Years, but the album dims quite a bit when that element is removed.