ASIWYFA prove that the loud and voiceless do not have to sound ineloquent.
Brad Barrett 2011
As important to any album where maximum volume is its central theme is its punctuation. With no vocal lines to emphasise dynamics, Belfast quartet And So I Watch You From Afar have excelled at pushing riffs or motifs to their logical centre stage; a place where few dare to tread in fear of exhausting their audience.
While the songs on this second LP are based around precious few new ideas – many of which can be heard on their 2007 mini-album This Is Our Machine and Nothing Can Stop It, their 2009 self-titled debut album and the following The Letters EP – it's the introduction of a particularly resonant mantra, such as halfway through closer Lifeproof, that brings the barrage of blows an unexpectedly elegant quality. For the most part, though, Gangs is an album strewn with the debris of a war march, albeit one laced with smirks and triumphant songs.
When notes are bent chronically out of shape on Gang (starting never stopping) or when the dub influences and flowing Mellotron-like whispers sneak in on the first half of Homes, the album really starts to feel textural as opposed to bludgeoning. It's here that ASIWYFA reveal possible new paths they will follow. It is within Homes, this album’s centrepiece, that the full range of sonics they've employed since inception really collide into each other. The feedback-soaked fake ending sounds as if you've just spent the last 20 minutes being shelled, the ringing in your ears gradually subsiding.
But while the relentlessness of it could be off-putting, Gangs is laced with syncopation, breathing space, warped tones and – most importantly – a sense of travel, with a beginning middle and end. The waltzy intro on 7 Billion People All Alive At Once is a delightful breather which later blooms into a hearty seafaring gang vocal, while the high-pitched pinball sounds on Search:Party:Animal signal a landmark in the band's orienteering.
There's no getting away from the distortion, the overclocked thrumming strings gushing from the amplifier speakers; but why would you want to? It's what ASIWYFA do best: hyperactive flurries of notes, squealing crescendos, riffs upon riffs with some modulated into glitchy oblivion. The rhythm section anchors it all without dragging proceedings into tedium. The jaunty melodies and jagged incisors savaging them into bite-size shapes remain engaging for the full 45 minutes, proving that the loud and voiceless do not have to sound ineloquent.