More than anything else, the music of And So I Watch You From Afar (ASIWIYFA for short) stands out for being so damn uplifting. The Northern Irish math rock quartet has built a reputation for producing upbeat, energetic instrumentals that are executed with metronomic precision and titanic power. With ASIWYFA’s latest record, All Hail Bright Futures, the group has decided to totally indulge in its strength and create a record that offers nothing but happiness and joy from start to finish. However, ASIWIYFA seems to have forgotten that overreliance on a strength can itself be a weakness.
For the most part, All Hail Bright Futures sticks to the formula that worked so well on ASIWYFA’s first two records. The songs are loaded with quick, precision-point, single-note patterns that sporadically swell into burley walls of distortion and shrink into light, fluttery clean tones or danceable quasi-electro hooks. All these shifts occur with a fluidity that masks the difficulty of many of these transitions. The percussion is just as impressive, with tight, choppy fills that undergo comparable ebbs and flows. All this technical musicianship is employed toward the end of creating gigantic overflows of emotion and energy. A smattering of horns, string samples and Caribbean percussive instruments offer luscious melodies atop the craggy math rock progressions.
ASIWYFA’s “Like a Mouse”
Though ASIWYFA leaves the foundation of its sound untouched, there are a number of subtle yet significant aesthetic modifications. The most obvious is the increased number of vocal passages. While the previous two albums each contained a very small number of utterances, All Hail Bright Futures has quite a bit of singing. In most of the songs, two or three of the members will chant a bright, peppy melody. At first, the vocals feel novel, but that novelty quickly wears off; soon it becomes clear that the vocals distract from the excellent musicianship while adding little substance to the arrangements.
All Hail Bright Futures is much more emotionally homogeneous than ASIWYFA’s first two records. While both the self-titled debut and Battles are ultimately a celebratory occasions, they also contain menacing and moody passages that provide the contrast required to make the brightness of the bright moments noticeable. On All Hail Bright Futures the listener is bombarded with one spurt of ecstasy after another without a single pallet cleanser. At first, it’s a thrill. The opening trio of “Eunoia,” “Big Things do Remarkable” and “Like a Mouse” is a showcase of everything ASIWYFA has to offer, all set to a blissful collection of riffs and hooks. Yet, as the record moves along, it’s hard to not become jaded to the excessive display of optimism. It doesn’t help that some of the tracks border on saccharine. Take “Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka” as an example: the a capella opening and the cutie hooks combine to create something that sounds like the theme song to a Nick Jr. cartoon.
It’s flaws aside, All Hail Bright Futures is quite impressive from a technical standpoint. Simply sitting back and following how all the moving parts weave in and out of each other is quite impressive and in moderation, the joyous spirit of this record is extremely effective. Taking this record all in one sitting will probably give you a stomach ache but if you take it in bite-sized servings it delivers the perfect rush.
Written by Jael Reboh
OurVinyl | Contributor