A little bit post-rock, a little bit rock 'n' roll
We’re keeping a list of our favorite things from Ireland. So far we’ve got Rubberbandits, Thin Lizzy, and now mind-expanding instrumental trio And So I Watch You From Afar. They debuted in 2009 with a self-titled LP of stirring, muscular post-hardcore along the formidable lines of Q and Not U. But this year’s follow up on Sargent House Gangs is several confident strides ahead of anything so predictable. They’ve borrowed some of the most satisfying bits from other genres — riffs from more straightforward schools of rock, melodic progressions that smack of pop — and developed them into mind-bending monsters.
The theme from opener “BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION” features trebley guitar glinting against a deep, dark backdrop of muffled bass and drums. It could also have been lifted from an A-Ha single, but they elaborate on it until you’ve got something psychoactive that will probably make you smarter. “Gang (starting never stopping)” gives some stoner riffs the same treatment. This continues, borrowing from jazz, Celtic modes, whatever is handy, ensuring that the album never becomes repetitive.
Playfulness is its salient characteristic. Their wrinkle on things is almost a send up of the post-rock genre. There’s a sense of humor in their M.O. that contributes to the creation of beguiling music rather than distracts from it. The best parts combine At the Drive In’s brainy fire with a little of Van Halen’s ham-fisted magnificence. (Yes, Gangs is one of the best albums to come out this year.)
As the album progresses the Belfast boys do unmoor themselves from the easily identifiable touchstones and start trafficking in purer materials — though “Lifeproof” does sound a bit like U2 gone epic. Hardcore fans of this sort of thing will be more hyped on the second half of Gangs for this reason, but it never devolves into one of those interminable, punishingly academic exercises that can make the math rock/post-rock clique one to avoid at the indie mixer. ASIWYFA is too smart to make anything as tedious as that. They’d get bored themselves and wander off first.
Image courtesy of Sargent House/Credit Keiran Frost