Northern Ireland’s And So I Watch You From Afar may make the most instantly-recognizable music currently associated with the post-rock scene. No matter what they do, it sounds a little like everything else they do and not much like anything anyone else is doing. Does this give them a free pass to stop reinventing themselves and settle? The answer, for me at least, is: kind of. Why not keep exploring the same, indisputably unique, musical territory to your heart’s content? There is no need to change a winning formula, provided you utilize it to its full potential. Herein lies the problem with “Heirs”: if you’re going to settle, settle on one thing.
A run through the album’s track list conjures images of a band right in the middle of a profound identity crisis. This becomes more understandable when one reads an interview guitarist Rory Friers did with FADER, in which he describes the album’s formation as a time the band largely spent in a room together making music without much outside influence. He adds that the album’s theme is the “inheritance of ideas”, which is somewhat of a euphemism here — it just doesn’t appear to know where it’s going.
RELEASE DATE: 04 May 2015 LABEL: Sargent House
RECOMMENDED TRACKS: Wasps, People Not Sleeping, Heirs
On “Heirs”, we seem to find ASIWYFA at a crossroads of sorts: a song like “Wasps” effortlessly recalls the furious antics of 2012’s “Gangs”, while on “Fucking Lifer”, for example, the band seem to be pining for a return to the tropical jubilance of their previous LP, “All Hail Bright Futures”. This goes for around a third of the album as well, as I found myself half-expecting “A Beacon, A Compass, An Anchor” to segue into the last LP’s “Mend and Make Safe”. In contrast, despite the healthy amount of new ideas on this album, most of them are left isolated to one song, remaining largely unexplored afterwards. Like the off-kilter riffing and slippery lead lick on “People Not Sleeping”? Too bad, because you won’t find anything else like it on this album. The same goes for the self-titled ninth track, which turns out to be a fantastic exercise in restraint for the band, showing off even tighter instrumentation than usual during the verses, followed by a wicked buildup, the likes of which I haven’t seen from ASIWYFA since their self-titled first album. There’s even a short guitar solo on “Run Home”, but again, that’s the only time you’ll find one here.
However, the fact of the matter is that the sheer abundance of good music on this album will probably render all of this completely irrelevant to a lot of people. Throughout ASIWYFA’s discography, every new album has whittled down the abstractions a little more, making their sound progressively catchier each time around. With “Heirs”, we witness the band at the top of their game in this regard, and the vocals, more prominent on this album than ever, do much to cement this one’s place as the most instantly enjoyable album in the band’s catalogue.
As far as said vocals go, they do come with a caveat. In general, they seem more geared to warming up a festival crowd than playing any significant purpose on their own, and usually consist of a single phrase being repeated to dramatic effect. They are, much as the rest of the album, a mixed bag. They work well on the excellent “Wasps”, while “These Secret Kings I Know” would just have been better off had they been left out. On the rest of the songs with vocals, however, I found them growing on me over time. Where it works, it works, and with regard to the dilemma ASIWYFA seem to be facing regarding the direction of their music, it is a welcome new component to their sound overall. One the one hand, you’d be hard-pressed to put boundaries on what that sound entails, especially now. On the other, you know it’s theirs, and that says something.
On their own merits, most of the songs on this album knock the ball out of the park. Once viewed in the context of the album and of ASIWYFA’s discography, they may lose some of their shine. However, there’s a good chance that you won’t pay this any mind; you’ll be too busy enjoying the music.