There’s a lot of things you could say about Belfast band And So I Watch You From Afar. They’ve been exciting audiences for a decade now, and they have come a long way since their beginnings.
While they differ in many ways from the band they were ten years ago, this isn’t an entirely bad thing. Their latest release, ‘Heirs’, is the first that new guitarist Niall Kennedy has had a part of writing, and it’s good to see some new stylings come to the fore.
The addition of vocals on 2012’s ‘All Hail Bright Futures’ brought with it an evolution in the style of play. Everything sounded a bit brighter than before. That grisly edge that was prevalent on their self-titled debut album is only briefly sighted now and then. It sometimes seems like ASIWYFA are now two entirely different bands; one consists of the explosive live performances, and the other struggles to get that energy onto a record.
Opening track of ‘Heirs’, Run Home, is almost two songs in itself. It starts with the fast-paced guitar duelling of Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy, and group vocals coupled with the pounding drumming of Chris Wee and the thudding bass of Johnny Adgar. This goes on for almost two minutes before the song evolves into a post rocky number. While it’s interesting, it feels like a little bit of a trainwreck at times.
Proper (albeit repetitive) vocals come to the fore on These Secret Kings I Know. This track also features the usual guitar noodling and high octane atmosphere that everybody has come to expect from the quartet. But it feels too short yet too long, making it quite a confusing track to digest.
There are frequent moments when it feels like there just isn’t enough going on. Wasps and People Not Sleeping are two of the more peculiar tracks in that nothing really happens. Instead of building to a satisfying payoff, they just trundle plainly along without ever doing much. The slowdown towards the end of People Not Sleeping builds anticipation through pounding drums, but then it just reverts to overly familiar repetition. The prevalent bassline on the short but sweet Fucking Lifer sets it apart from everything else around it, but the other parts are a bit too meh to really say anything positive about.
All across the album, elements of math rock become more prevalent, and in most cases manage to meld well with the post-rock elements on show. The titular Heirs features heavy pitch shifting and at times is remnant of Alarmist.
But perhaps the best moments are the ones that recall days past. A Beacon, A Compass, An Anchor is an intense, cascading seven minute treat for the eardrums that brings back memories of earlier ASIWYFA albums. It’s one of the few tracks where the transition into a new section actually delivers genuine excitement. Another standout is Redesigned a Million Times, with its utterly contagious riff, vocal hook and all-together good vibes.
Ultimately, whether or not ‘Heirs’ works or not as an album comes down to acceptance. There’s nothing incredible on display across the ten tracks, but nothing is genuinely bad either. ‘Heirs’ is the definition of a mixed bag. But the recorded material is only ever half the story. Like everything ASIWYFA have done before, ‘Heirs’ is sure to sound nothing short of huge when it gets rolled out in a live setting.
‘Heirs’ is out now. And So I Watch You From Afar play the Olympia Theatre, Dublin on 19 June, and
Mandela Hall, Belfast on 20 June.