KEXP is counting down the best records of the year with our annual Best of 2022 Countdown. Ahead of the countdown, KEXP staff make the case for some of their favorite albums from 2022. Make sure to vote for your favorites by December 9 at 7 PM PT and tune in to hear what makes the list on December 16.
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Belfast band And So I Watch You From Afar has consistently been one of those bands whose albums I need to hear over and over before they fully resonate with me. By the tenth listen, though, certain riffs become baked into memories.
This slowly happened for me again this year with the band’s latest album, Jettison. It tells a story about cinematics and dynamics.
Not to pigeonhole my own taste, but I’ve always leaned toward ambient and less-distorted groups on the “scale of post-rock dynamics.” For example, to use an embarrassingly outdated analogy, my MySpace Top 8 would include Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, The Album Leaf, and Hammock.
More than 10 years ago, my best friends asked me to come watch ASIWYFA live and up close on their U.S. tour. Most of their songs are far more distorted, technical, and fast-paced on the aforementioned “scale of post-rock dynamics,” so I went expecting to enjoy the show like a kid enjoys a bowl of lima beans.
Let me tell you, I was wrong. The show was just what I needed.
(To be fair, yes, ASIWYFA played a lot of tracks with forceful momentum, but they also played softer tracks from their discography, including “The Voiceless.”)
After the show, we got to meet the band, and they gave me a CD version of their 2011 album, Gangs. Technology being what it is, I didn’t listen to it much except on long drives (because my car is the only consistent place for me to play CDs).
This leads to the idea of music baking into my memories. For example, after being on repeat in my car for so many years, the track “Homes - ... Samara to Belfast” instantly teleports me to the end of a road trip. That off-beat riff in the second half makes me think of the sunset shining through my car window as I approach the Phoenix skyline in the distance.
Or, consider another track from Gangs: “7 Billion People All Alive at Once.”
Orchestration is an unusual accompaniment to guitar licks and uptempo drumming, and yet somehow ASIWYFA has slowly started making this a key part of their sound over the last 10 years. The first time I heard strings alongside their math rock was in a live BBC session that I can only find on YouTube. It’s the song “7 Billion People All Alive at Once,” but they’re joined by the Ulster Orchestra.
Same deal in Jettison—pretty much from start to finish, thanks to the work of the Arco String Quartet. I had once only felt so deeply moved by music when I was a churchgoer. Now that I would describe myself as a “secular epicurean,” I think that the Arco String Quartet is doing the work of gods. They bring out a spiritual quality in ASIWYFA’s rock elements.
This level of experimentation makes me think of Alan Parsons, especially since Jettison also features sparse spoken-word interludes from fellow musicians Emma Ruth Rundle and Neil Fallon. The album begins with Rundle’s part:
And maybe many times before that
We talked just like this
Trying to remember how it was
And I’ve grown so tired of it
All those ideas just abandoned
The creaking iron eaten away by the salt
Lazy wreckages lying empty
Still pointing their course
Paused by a great retreat
No use, no destination
Waiting just like we did
And the warm air smelt of thunder again
And I was happy
I’ve missed you
Jettison tells a sort of reunion story in which two protagonists give their perspective on an unknown rift between them. It could be about a dissolved romance, or it could be about isolation during the pandemic, or—like any good art—it can be about whatever you need it to. Nearly halfway through the album, after a few gentle interludes, the two protagonists meet again for a few brief moments.
From here, Jettison becomes explosive. Strings slowly give way to more intricate syncopation between ASIWYFA’s core members. In the latter half of Jettison, we’re practically in Gangs all over again, and they deliver on their signature mathy sound: bent strings, crashing cymbals, chunky bass.
There are technically nine “songs” that comprise Jettison, but these “songs” are more like movements. The band was aiming to compose a bonafide score with seamless transitions, which is an easy feat for ASIWYFA. They’ve already mastered the art of the segue on previous albums.
As the dust settles in the final movement, the strings send us out with a truly cinematic ending. You can practically see movie credits rolling in your head before Rundle delivers the refrain: “I’ve missed you.”
The more I listen to Jettison, the more I feel connected with it. Lyrically speaking, the concept of “all those ideas just abandoned [...] eaten away by the salt” were all too familiar to me. It puts words behind the complicated feeling of moving past relationships, whether it’s a person I dated for just seven weeks or seven years—now “strangers again.”
Instrumentally speaking, the high energy that emerges from the cryptic story reflects my own eagerness to come out of the pandemic lockdown as a positive force in the world. I’m mentoring others, I’m spending time in new places, and I’m feeling less bad about taking time to rest. (Rest these days usually means playing Super Smash Bros.).
Finally, artistically speaking, Rory Friers’s tasty riffs make me want to improve my own dexterity as a guitar player. (I already have some similar pedals, including the Boss PS-6 Harmonizer, which is a start.) As usual, ASIWYFA has managed to please the part of me that’s comfortable in ambient music while also appealing to my more adventurous tastes in math rock—and it didn’t even take ten listens this time.
Addendum: Earlier this year, I reviewed Beach House’s four-part release, Once Twice Melody. In that review, I alluded to it possibly being my album of the year. I have yet to make an official calculation, but Jettison has—if you will—jettisoned up in the ranks.
KEXP is counting down the best records of the year with our annual Best of 2022 Countdown. Ahead of the countdown, KEXP staff make the case for some of their favorite albums from 2022. Make sure to vote for your favorites by December 9 at 7 PM PT and tune in to hear what makes the list on December …
KEXP is counting down the best records of the year with our annual Top 90.3 Countdown. Ahead of the countdown, KEXP staff make the case for some of their favorite albums from 2022. Make sure to vote for your favorites by December 9 at 7 PM PT and tune in to hear what makes the list on December 16.
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