Well, we didn’t see this coming. Although their second album Gangs garnered almost as much praise as their self-titled debut, there was a nagging doubt that And So I Watch You From Afar had already exhausted their initial idea. While vocal bands can keep rehashing the same formula, life isn’t quite so easy for their instrumental cousins. The mysterious departure of Tony Wright (very much the focal point of the band live) suggested that perhaps a third album of the same material might be a distinctly unwise move.
If All Hail Bright Futures is anything, it’s definitely not more of the same. It is daring, adventurous, breathtaking and – above all else – bloody brilliant. But it is not And So I Watch You From Afar Part III. Yes, you can tell that it is largely the same band at the heart of it all but they have taken their original vision and twisted it into something new. Right from the start it’s clear that there’s a different approach at work. ‘Eunoia’ shimmies where they used to rage – utilising what sounds suspiciously like a keyboard alongside darting guitars, an upbeat disposition and a hint of vocals. ‘Big Thinks Do Remarkable’ follows, Adebesi Shank style histrionics leading into a jit-jive meets electronics beat and a massed chanted vocal of “the sun is in our eyes”. And there you have it. Tone set.
Not only is the sun in their eyes, it’s in their hearts too. The promise that this would be a more uplifting record isn’t far wrong. That desire is achieved by adding to their bass, drums and guitar template. Those vocals (of a sort) return throughout, not exactly making a bid for daytime radio play but certainly anchoring the tracks into some sort of form. Having prepared us to expect the unexpected, the album still manages to surprise and delight. ‘The Stay Golden’ marries a world influenced electronic beat with a catchy vocal melody and a joyous trumpet solo, before morphing into the steel drums of ‘Rats On Rock’ and the strings and brass of ‘Trails’. God only knows if they’ll be able to play it live but they owe it to us to try.
And still it continues. ‘Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka’ loops more vocals over Afrobeat drums and the title track features a slide guitar and gently harmonious singing. ‘Mend & Make Safe’ adds a flute (yes, a flute) to spirited punk rock. ‘Young Brave Minds’ perhaps says it all, a fitting conclusion to an album that has seen And So I Watch You From Afar not only tear up the rule book but stamp it into the ground. To reiterate the point – this is an incredible record. If you thought they were good before you have no idea what’s around the corner. Let the sun shine.