STA is now Ten Years Old

ASIWYFA Debut Album Review

"for all the ambition and complexity displayed, they're anything but afraid to rock - quite some distance ahead of the rest of '09's guitar albums so far."

You know what went wrong with post-rock? Couple of things, actually. First up, perhaps even more so than, say, rave or the New Acoustic Movement, it had very little to offer in the way of compelling protagonists. Worse, it degenerated extraordinarily quickly to the point whereby it was populated almost entirely of diluted copies of Tortoise, Mogwai and Stereolab, which was surely never the point. Still, it was fundamentally sound as a notion, based as it was on the idea of exploration using the tools of rock but none of its strictures, and it mined some genuine gold along the way: try listening to the likes of 'Djed', 'Helicon' and 'French Disko' today and contending they don't still sparkle. Given, then, that we're going through a sufficiently grab-bag era that even the long-derided weapons of shoe are being put to sterling use, surely it's ripe for reinvigoration. Isn't it?

Belfast boys And So I Watch You From Afar would certainly contend so, and they've enough about them to lend their opinions some credence. After all, one of their most memorable features live is an affability that far belies the sullen seriousness of both their name and their forebears, and the tracklisting here, including such delights as "Clench Fists, Grit Teeth... Go!" and "If It Ain't Broke, Break It" is clearly the work of gentlemen more pranksterly than po-faced. Plus, here the bookend tracks alone are unavoidably striking: "Set Guitars To Kill" begins proceedings in fearlessly quasi-martial fashion before ostentatiously carving javelins out of granite so they can hurl them at Metallica, then causing Cure fans to break out into enthusiastically confused choreography and finally appearing to call the Muppets' Animal in on drumming duties. "Eat The City, Eat It Whole" manages roughly four minutes of cherubic, waterfall-negotiating guitar with the melancholy air of Red House Painters before a pride of somewhat unimpressed lions hurtle into the studio and get engaged in a colossal wrestle that only ends when they find themselves lulled by a surprise dub assault.

Ludicrous, perhaps, but brilliantly so; and low on let-up, fierily wilful in its methodology. That there would be asymmetric time signatures on show is almost a given, and indeed "Clench Fists..." wastes little time before moving first into 13/8 and then something that sounds like it might involve decimal places. But there are African influences here too, although "A Little Bit Of Solidarity Goes A Long Way" deftly avoids Vampire Weekend-style touristic condescension by incorporating its soca stylings seamlessly into some thunderous minor-chord menace. Moreover, there's even a near-singalong moment on — oh, the irony — "The Voiceless", which is about as stadium as they get and features some sublime guitar crochet over outrageously persuasive bass. As you might've gathered, for all the ambition and complexity displayed, they're anything but afraid to rock, which leads inevitably to ":Tip Of The Hat, Punch In The Face" doing exactly what it says on the tin.

Frankly, it's a very long time since a band remotely like this came along. But they make for a consistently satisfying experience, and 'And So I Watch You From Afar' is quite some distance ahead of the rest of '09's guitar albums so far.

- Iain Moffatt, The Quietus