One of the problems with releasing a debut album with the sheer awesome volatility of And So I Watch You From Afar’s first is that eventually you have to follow it up with something befitting the original. Tired phrases like ‘difficult second album’ and ‘I prefer the early stuff’ are thrown around haphazardly in music circles, and sometimes they do apply, but not in the case of Gangs because ASIWYFA have never been a band to trade in the pastiche. In fact, the only cliché that comes to mind when listening contains the words ‘year’ and ‘possible album of the’, followed by several exclamation marks.
Gangs contains all the elements which made their self-titled debut album such an enthralling listen. Every one of the eight songs is arranged in an incredibly compelling manner, fusing together numerous ideas and rhythm changes to create 44 minutes of unpredictable discord, but at no point does the album feel disjointed or patched together. The intricacies of the four musicians on the album ensure that it has an incredibly solid foundation from which to build –and build they do. As the many who’ve seen this band on their extensive tours over the past 18 months can testify, ASIWYFA are masters of building their songs to a frenzied climax. Like a hand-grenade, you don’t know exactly when it’s going to go off, just that it will.
The record’s breakneck symphonies come at you at 100mph, particularly album-opener ‘BEAUTIFULUNIVERSEMASTERCHAMPION’ and ‘Search:Party:Animal’ (the song that made BBC jock Zane Lowe have an on-air conniption fit a few weeks ago). There is also a more delicate touch when needed, with ’7 Billion People All Alive At Once’ being a good companion piece to the first album’s ‘The Voiceless’. Towards the end of the album, two of the tracks are coupled together under a collective banner ‘Homes’. ‘Ghost Parlor KA-6 to Samara to Belfast’ are the band’s attempt, according to guitarist Rory Friers, to define musically the journey, both physically and psychologically, they’ve been on over the course of the past year and change.
One of the major benefits of being an instrumental group has always been the ability to throw the standard verse-chorus-verse structure out the window and take the song where it wants to go, instead of where convention says it should. If there’s one thing ASIWYFA aren’t, it’s conventional. With Gangs, they’ve written an album which is both an incredible musical statement and also enduringly listenable. Turns out Zane Lowe was right about something after all.
By John Balfe