And So I Watch You From Afar could easily have been forgiven for making an utterly depressing album given their recent history. Guitarist Tony Wright left the band a year and a half ago which would have been enough for most bands to crumble. Then to add further injury, the band’s original label Richter Collective gave up the ghost. Fortunately the band was picked up by Sargent House and recruited Niall Kennedy into the fold, but for a while, the future of the band looked pretty uncertain.
There are ways to respond to such unrest. The first is to retreat and become disenfranchised with the shoddy hand you’ve been dealt. The second is to party like there’s no tomorrow and keep going in a never ending blaze of revelry. The title of ASIWYFA’s latest album tells you everything you need to know about the approach the band took to their recent run of misfortune. No time for woe, and they clearly understand that the darkest time is just before dawn. Although this album suggests that the band might not have even noticed the dawn because they’d been partying all through the night and well into the sunshine of the next day.
This then is an album of continuation, but also re-invention. There are occasional concessions to vocals, which until now was unheard of, and an array of new sounds that open up the band’s sonic palette considerably. Admittedly there’s no new ground being discovered here in a wider sense (fans of Foals and Battles will be particularly unsurprised) but this sheer enthusiasm that runs throughout the album is really pretty infectious.
Opening with the arpeggiated loop of Eunoia, the band establish an incessant feel good vibe right from the start. They then dive headlong into the mathy catch and release of Big Thinks Do Remarkable which an unashamed call to the dance floor. “The sun is in our eyes,” the band chant as the song builds from an introspective lull towards a seething epiphany so compelling that the warmth of the sun is tangible. It’s glorious stuff that whirls around like a nursery school kid on a sugar high. Yes it’s simple, but it works magnificently.
Like A Mouse follows, with the guitars set to rock mode and riotous breaks that can only be a nod to early day Fatboy Slim. That it is possibly the weakest moment on the record shows how high the ASIWYFA have set the bar this time around. Ambulance sounds like a drum kit falling down the stairs in a steel mill and keeps the rock coming albeit with slight prog overtones.
Sitting at the heart of the album is the three-part mass of The Stay Golden which perhaps sets out the current ambitions of the band most clearly. A cavalcade of ideas spread out of three songs, ASIWYFA set their stall out to pack in as much fun as possible. Spiraling from lightning quick passages designed to get feet moving, through steel drum frenzies, an on to an emotionally orchestrated denoument complete with strings and a heartfelt trumpet solo, it’s an indication of just how much ambition the band possesses.
It doesn’t always work. The vocal loops of Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka might be clever, but they quickly become irritating. The inclusion of steel drums on this track just winds up making it sound like some kind of Notting Hill Carnival nightmare. But the title track quickly gets things back on an even keel with its central guitar motif and rolling drums evoking the summer breeze with ease. There’s an effortless cuteness and happiness about it that just exudes charm. It would be all too simple to stray into the arena of the glib, but somehow ASIWYFA avoid it. Considering the band was all but dead in the water not so long ago, All Hail Bright Futures is a remarkable comeback record. Whether the future is as bright as hoped remains to be seen, but the signs are good.