The Endless Shimmering isn’t messing about. Right from the off, Northern Irish noise-merchants And So I Watch You From Afar are determined to blast the heads off their listeners with a tougher wedge of sound than anything that appeared on their last couple of albums. With its sonic fists fairly clenched, The Endless Shimmering is a strapping return to the immensity of the band’s live incarnations that felt a little lacking on the slightly more tempered and delicately arranged work of their previous two outings.
Where Heirs and All Hail Bright Futures sailed into vibrant and animated new instrumental expanses for the band, The Endless Shimmering feels like a big step back the other way. The four-piece have tried out some fancy new tools – including *gasp* vocals – and are now happy to put these back into the box and get down to work with the good old hammer and nails.
Not to say that there isn’t a huge amount of craft in And So I Watch You From Afar’s dizzying instrumental arrangements on display this time out. Rather, the songs rock so hard that the listener gets a little bit too lost to idly admire the technical aesthetics. This is an ass-kicking, ear-rupturing rock record. By taking less of equipment out of the sonic toolbox, And So I Watch You From Afar have constructed a rough-hew yet beautiful collection of songs that may well prove to be the best single piece of work with their name to it.
Heady opener ‘Three Triangles’ blasts the cobwebs off with edgy swell of noise, while ‘A Slow Unfolding of Wings’ dips and rises like a storm, it’s minor interludes of soothing calm serving as a reassuring counterpoint for the sudden blasts of noise they punctuate.
The expansive, adventurous ‘Dying Giants’ unleashes itself across seven and a half mighty minutes, its drums striking like the footsteps of a marching army and its guitars wailing like air-raid sirens. There’s a real discomfort to how drawn out this track’s relentless build up actually lasts for. In the end it simply fades away like a faint echo of the torrent that came before, shot through with a smattering of mournful violins – an unexpected but eminently satisfying apparition.
This is counterpointed a couple of songs later, with the record’s beating heart – ‘The Endless Shimmering’. The titular track is a slow starter with a bright, easy-going intro that lightly and patiently layers on sound on top of sound before letting rip into a breakdown that – true to the title – does indeed shimmer. By the time ASIWYFA get to ‘Mullally’ – a furiously fast number with a real heft to it – it is clear that The Endless Shimmering is a welcome return from the band whose live shows felt like they had the strength to erode mountains.
With such a heady swell of noise, it’s difficult at times to even pick out the individual instruments at work. However, again and again it seems that the drumming is the real powerhouse of a lot of these songs, driving their introduction with a simple – and often quite minimal beat – and then slowly adding in elements as the song rises until there is nothing but an imposing and elemental wall of drums.
The Endless Shimmering is a monumental force of energy. Alongside this it carries a deep, satisfying sonic complexity that yields new little nuggets on subsequent listens. It is a resonant culmination of all the different avenues ASIWYFA have explored over the course of their career, from their riotous live birth through their technical evolution in the studio. There’s not a hint of a human voice this time around, but still this could well be the band’s richest, most arresting album. There’s an epic cinematic sweep to the music that paints a rich world of sound and lets the listener lose themselves in it.