And So I Watch You From Afar
And So I Watch You From Afar are as joyous as their name is ridiculous.
Like an energy drink being shoved into your soul. Like the world’s happiest mosh-pit. Like punching god in the face after climbing Mt. Everest. The ebullient drubbing produced by ASIWYFA has no musical comparison, just impossible physical feats that barely glimpse the improbability of this color-strewn noise.
Math-rock, post-rock, the labels don’t really matter. What the Belfast quartet has always done is extolled the brilliance of heavy music. Heavy music, albeit, with gratuitous major chords, chain-gang vocals and playfulness encoded in its very DNA. And this sort of inspiring insanity is exactly what landed them here.
Two of their albums, 2013's All Hail Bright Futures and 2017’s The Endless Shimmering made the list, along with Heirs cut “Animal Ghosts.” Read our blurbs below, listen to our interview with ASIWYFA founder Rory Friers and hear why we think they’re the best of the 10s.
All Hail Bright Futures
You’ll know within three minutes of All Hail Bright Futures’ run time if you’re in it or not. After the blissed-out build of “Eunoia” (literally meaning “good mind”), ASIWYFA colorfully burst forth like a salvo of fireworks being let off in the Met. The color palette is cartoony, almost gaudy in its sheer overwhelmingness. This is a bright, brilliant, absurdly positive album. Even while bashing your skull in with double bass pedals and crunching guitar riffs, the overarching sentiment of pure, bubbling joy never leaves.
“The sun is in our eyes!” is one of the few vocal motifs allowed, and it sums up All Hail Bright Futures nicely. There is a golden shimmer of belief, of hope to every note. The daredevil thrash of “Big Thinks Do Remarkable” the speedy rave of “Like a Mouse” and the stadium filling bounce of “Things Amazing” all blitz along with a sense of radient happiness flowing through them. I once said it sounded like Adventure Time as scored by Maps & Atlases, but ASIWYFA and All Hail Bright Futures are singular in their smile.
This is the wondrous, child-like idea of what guitars are supposed to do. For a generation raised on the multi-colored glory of Guitar Hero where face-melting solos naturally correlated with flashy, colored buttons, “Animal Ghosts” was the platonic standard of an electric guitar in all its natural glory.
First made as a simple demo, then fleshed out to a full orchestral scope, “Animal Ghosts” was the emotional and cinematic center of 2015’s Heirs, an album popping with solos and silliness. But for a scant three and a half minutes, ASIWYFA channeled all the righteous energy they had crafted on previous world-breakers like “K is for Killing Spree” into this monumental slab of stomping perfection. When the horns and full chorus come in, they don’t feel cheesy or over the top, they merely match the emotional level the guitar has already summoned us to.
The Endless Shimmering
On jaunts like Gangs (2011) and All Hail Bright Futures (2013), Ireland’s instrumental innovators And So I Watch You From Afar zip through concise, breakneck songs where atypical time signatures and pop hooks find a way to not only get along, but work in compelling unison. The standard formula of post-rock leading up to ASIWYFA’s rise to prominence, the one pioneered by contemplative groups like Explosions in the Sky and Mogwai, quickly arrived at a point of diminishing returns by the start of the 2010’s. It seemed that anyone with a sufficiently diverse pedalboard and a penchant for guitar noodling would form a band poorly aping “Your Hand in Mine” ad nauseam. ASIWYFA broke from that mold, much like their English contemporaries Maybeshewill, by emphasizing concision, without sacrificing technical expertise or sonic range.
As is the case with much instrumental music, it’s hard to specify why certain emotions or images are evoked when I listen to The Endless Shimmering, ASIWYFA’s fifth studio LP. On vocal pop and rock music, we’re given storylines or poetic emotions with which to associate the music; on songs like “Mullally” and “Three Triangles”, two of The Endless Shimmering’s finest moments, we’re left with only a title and how the music makes us feel, and given how to-the-point these tunes are — most span the three to five minute range — we’re given a great deal to process in only a few minutes.
I could go into track-by-track detail about this record, but, well, at the risk of self-promotion, I’ve already done that. I will say the distinct, lasting impression with which The Endless Shimmering leaves me: maturity. Less zany than All Hail Bright Futures and Heirs (2015), and less concerned with musical trickery than Gangs, The Endless Shimmering captures a band arriving at its full maturity, with emotional depth and musical intricacy working hand-in-hand. The kind of math rock in which ASIWYFA purvey is often pigeonholed as emotionally distant, in favor of abstruse musical constructions which can do nothing more than please that part of the brain which says, “Hell yeah, 24/16! That’s dope!” If you ever want to know what can be achieved with two guitars, a bass guitar, and a drumset, The Endless Shimmering is a damn fine place to start.