Monday, 21 January 2013

And So I Watch You From Afar - All Hail Bright Futures

 

A few years ago, I started truly getting into what many have come to call, math rock. I took to it with interest yes, but not without effortlessly holding back this niggling burial of conservativeness over how versatile and, frankly, how enjoyable this seemingly more 'rhythmically complex' sub-genre of rock, could be. Three years on from having started picking up a copy of Mirrored, and I get an overwhelming sense of understanding over how celebrated and infectious the genre seems to circulate around the online circles of music followers. Now with several math artists neatly tucked into my library - and a select few whose discography I can actually return to without a sense of forceful intention to refresh my memory - And So I Watch You From Afar return to the forefront of my mathematically-centered line of sight. While I'm appeased by the band's concentric focus on rhythm and interlinking tone of both guitar and percussion alike, it's the band's visible homage to post-rock and symphonic arrangements - most notably on their last release, 'Gangs' - that ushers something more from me than just some tasked going-over for the sake of refreshing one's memory. So it's understandable that I come to their third outing, 'All Hail Bright Futures' with that same original conservativeness about where exactly the band are going to lead me: will they approach something rather than react to it; will safety overtake experimentation; has the band's over-arching development come to something of a stale-mate?

Fortunately, my worries - and those of other Afar fans far and wide - for the time being, appear to be unjust. And while it may not hold the normality of math-rock's signature presentation, the album's opening track Eunoia conjures something recognizably melodic and textural. Despite it's short length and given how it acts more as something of a slowly-revealed undressing to the succeeding track, I'm still caught between this two-state position of being both attracted to the song's glittered stream of guitar strings, and yet immediately in spacious awe over the track's fittingly-placed glow of harmony and synthesizer loops alike. And while the guitars are kept to something of a minimal pattern, their looping momentum creates an interesting clash to the opposing smother of these rich sonic textures that gradually peel through the musical openings. And as noted, it sets up the opening to Big Thinks Do Remarkable quite well given how direct the track itself begins, and then follows so equally direct into this climbatizing of electric guitars and heavily thick percussion. Soon though, the track takes on a much more symphonic approach and it's here that the raw emotive essence of the track comes to light. There's such a strong tied connection between guitars, both electric and bass alike and the drum work creates even more of this deeply-rooted interconnection. And despite how repetitive, and perhaps, minor the looping of 'this sun...this sun...this sun...is in our eyes' may become, the ushered voices do intensify the song's original bareness.

Vocals - be it these limited chanting of words - of course, don't necessarily play the biggest role on this album, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. When they are included however, and are incorporated so unambiguously in a track's deliverance, they are - thankfully - more of a momentary support than they are a hindrance. The track AMBULANCE could have been, at one time, purely instrumental. But there's something about the energized chanting in the track's thunderous deliverance of guitar chords that conjures something more of a direct and deeper-impacting effect. And of course, the emphasis on textures - and how guitars run lavishly between lower grittier tones and higher static ones - only adds to the track's simple yes, but overly effective deliverance of melody. There is less an emphasis on probably composing these sounds into something more concrete, but I suppose with a band like this, matters such as these should be taken with a pinch of salt. I'm led into the track The Stay Golden Pt. 1 and I feel that the band's usage of unconventional tones and guitar textures seems undeniably justified. 'We know, we know...that that's not the way though' the band cry out, drums marching to the unison of electric guitars and fuzzing bass. And even when the track's leading rhythm drifts slightly from the listener's ear, the band's sense of scope in all their energized usage of guitars and lavish collage of symphonic instrumentation, come across as lavishly overpowering.

I'm inclined to mention fellow Northern Irish math-rock favourites of mine, Adebisi Shank - and further to that an act like Battles too - because of how intricate and spectral the sounds on these album strike so much of a similarity with them. And this type of decision-making - one that envelops such an extremity in scale yet somewhere manages to find some kind of means or method to channel it all - that I can often find working best, as opposed to an acoustic instrumentation or direct focus on something so rhythmically complex. It's not just because it opens up even more potential for some kind of wider-emotive narration, but it also gives the band a challenge into how they match up these sounds into something more composed and integral. A track like Mend And Make Safe has enough directness in its strumming of guitars and pacing of percussion, but so too does it make usage of more harmonic instrumentation that it adds more of a scope and a sense of discovery about the music. There's less of an abstractness about the band's sound and it becomes increasingly more juxtaposed with, perhaps, a physical or metaphoric conjuring of thought. Afar do still create plenty of leeway, in moments such as these, for the listener to draw their own visual conclusions. And this is perhaps the reason why the music still has some sense of weightless darting and wavered sense of bewilderment I'm less inclined to return to.

The track Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka does remind me fondly of those first few confounding Battles moments, but unfortunately where the band sacrifice variance in exchange for repetition, I'm less compelled by the simplicity in the percussion or the playful hue of colours in the track's vocal/guitar meshing. I can admire the band's innocently-suggestive pandering to this more lighthearted tone, but despite what joyous emotion this might entail; despite the track's closing section of rougher-textured guitars and drum work, it above all gives me an overwhelming belief there's a lack of decisiveness at times with where the band want to go. With the title track soon after, there's something of a conflict about how the track intends to keep a sense of just harmony and togetherness - lush warming keys causing something of a conflict with the upbeat nature of the track's main drive of guitars and percussion. In the end, it makes the track out to be one of two self-composed conflicting identities. It feels like it's attempting two separate things at once, but fails to find some underlying manner of a cross-road to join the two, and in the end, comes out awkwardly unbalanced and, as mentioned, wavered. Album closer Young Brave Minds for a seven-minute track, let alone a seven-minute finale, is given a underlining responsibility to be both ambitious yet interesting at the same time. And given how lesser-appealing the album's latter half feels, it does end the album on something more of a hopeful mood. The slow unveiling of guitars and the steady but stern beating of percussion creates much more of an engrossing atmosphere that ultimately leads us into this post-rock-esque deliverance of emotive, musical dynamics that work well in unison to the similarly chanted vocals billowing from out the rowdiness of the music's confines.

I'm inclined to note, as I reach the end of this album, that this could be merited as the band's second-best record of the three, and further to that note it's a second place that could be to either album that. The fact is, 'All Hail Bright Futures' is much more refined and composed, but doesn't necessarily overtake either one of their other albums in fully making the most of the band's irrefutable talent for melody and harmony. It's a tale really, despite how cliche this still sounds, of two halves. Afar have, on evaluation, succeeded in branching out and - quite lavishly - refining their new-found sense of discovery, but still unfortunately give a slight hint to finding difficulty still to making the full body of their records keep to this same musical oath. Nevertheless, I find myself compelled ever more to listen closer and closer, with each repeated listen, to the tracks Afar hold such strong integrity over. And while the track title's themselves may not exactly agree with the grammar-obsessive English speakers of our World, beneath the words, there still remains something of a prolonging physicality to these rich, textural rhythms and sounds.
~Jordan

7.6

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