Review Summary: A fun post rock album.
And So I Watch You From Afar hail from Northern Ireland's punk scene and have produced a post rock album with all the best features of both genres. While their name, apparently a reference to our technologically monitored society, may suggest a band taking themselves rather too seriously, track titles like 'Set Guitars To Kill' and 'If It Ain't Broke...Break It' are statements more of a kind with the furious sound on offer here. ASIWYFA (sorry but acronyms are just easier in this case) deliver a heavy rock instrumental sound that's almost post-metal but with none of the brooding ominous sounds of that genre, preferring a more lively assault on the ears with a cleaner and more precise, almost math rock style of instrumentation. From post rock ASIWYFA take the colossal sound while emphasising their interweaving riffs and pacy rhythms over background textures.
The two first tracks and singles are the best immediate statements of intent from an album I've heard for a while and show off ASIWYFA doing what they do best, rocking extremely hard. 'Set Guitars To Kill' opens with martial drums and a set of opening guitar wails before the sound of a crowd cheering which immediately marks the opening of some crunchy guitar with a frantic, high and precise riff over the top of it. The intent is clear: this is music meant to be played loud, fast and with an extremely large crowd headbanging along. This quickly leads into a set of similarly frantic but clean riffs finally finishing off some extremely fast drumming over a racing guitar line. 'A Little Bit of Solidarity Goes a Long Way' is just as quick, just as precise but with more of a math bent as the high guitar plays an even more speedy pattern and is joined by some vocal yelps and hand claps. This frenetic energy is present throughout the entire first half of the album and it's effective because it's catchy. ASIWYFA aren't afraid of chucking some dissonance into the mix such as on 'Clench Fists, Grit Teeth...Go!' or of adding some fiddly math rock like instrumentation such as on 'Tip of the Hat, Punch in the Face' but this is an album that intends to be high energy and immediate, possibly even danceable, not to be obtuse or use particularly complex time signatures. In some ways this limits the band as occasionally an element feels recycled or overused but its done so well that while listening its hard to complain.
However a single memorable riff and a sense of energy is not enough to carry a song, especially without lyrics to tell us a story. Each song there fore is built into a journey similar to those built by other post rock bands by the use of distinct sections and occasionally even movements within songs.'If it Ain't Broke...Break It' has at least 4 sections over its 6:21 running time, each with its own build up and crescendo and its own memorable moment. In other songs such as 'I Capture Castles' the same riff returns but noticeably altered and built into much larger structure each time. The difference between this and most post rock is that each section is explosive, rather than being a gentle rise and fall this is a much more jagged and immediate switch. In some cases this can lead to a sense of disjointedness, as if the band had some memorable sections of songs but couldn't adequately find a way to bridge them. In addition the moods of the album aren't particularly varied, in stark contrast to other post rock bands there are very few relaxing moments and no gradual coming together of a track which may rob it of some of the moments of beauty that songs have when everything comes together. But this is also part of the charm of the album as it makes it an intense journey all the way.
As with most albums the second part of the album is where the band stretches its collective legs and begins to experiment and this is where the potential of the band shows itself. While the first half feels like a desperate rush to get all the ideas out at once which makes for an exhilarating but exhausting rush, the last 3 tracks are noticeably different. 'The Voiceless' is the one track that was released previously and it does feel slightly out of place on the album. A slow burning Explosions in the Sky style song driven by a calm bass line and reverberating guitar finally joined by a piano, in the context of the album it creates a nice oasis of calm but its a very generic song when viewed outside it. The final song is a longer song that shifts very noticeably between moods swelling up and subsiding several times. However the gem of the album is 'Don't Waste Time Doing Things You Hate'. A calm beginning shifts into a storm of sirens, electrical whoops and vocal yelps which fades away into a build up that leads into a beautifully simple and gentle pattern of muted guitar and drums. This then is replaced by a 1-2-3-4 countdown and a cowbell (!) along with a mass vocal chant (apparently featuring many of the musicians from the Northern Ireland music scene) that is joined by the guitar and finally collapses into whoops and cheers before finally finishing off with a swell of guitars and drums as the vocal chant fades away. Incredibly the entire song feels like one cohesive whole despite featuring such diverse elements and it's an amazing use of various instruments without a word being spoken and I grinned the whole way through.
Overall this album is one hell of a musical journey for a debut album and incredibly full of energy. Sometimes it feels a little repetitive and a little incoherent but its sheer fun all the way and certainly looks outside the genre.