Jettison by And So I Watch You From AfarRelease date: February 18, 2022
Label: Velocity Records
Can it really be 16 years since And So I Watch You From Afar first started treading the boards of Belfast’s pubs and clubs, creating massive waves? It feels like a lifetime ago. A lot has changed for the band in that time. Line-up changes, record label changes and the huge uncertainty of not being able to tour, their prime source of income, probably making the band question if they could even still exist. But thankfully, they are still together and the multimedia piece Jettison, is finally getting a release, albeit somewhat limited, as a 1000 copy vinyl print. (I tried to buy the CD but postage costs from their US label were prohibitive).
In conjunction with orchestrator Connor O’Boyle, the core unit of Rory Friers (guitar), Niall Kennedy (guitar), Johnny Adgers (bass) and Chris Wee (drums) teamed up with the Arco String Quartet to create the music. Visual artist Sam Wiehl has created a film to accompany the sounds and there have been and will be sporadic performances of Jettison. Friers explains “Making a longer piece of music was something I’d wanted to do for a long time…I always liked albums and pieces of music that gave you a bigger space to get lost in”. Work started on the recording as far back as 2018 but sadly for the band, the original release of Jettison as a performance came at the same time the band tragically lost a close friend. Then Covid came along to, well, you know what happened next…
I would advise the only way to listen to Jettison is as a single piece of music. Individual tracks do exist but to play them in isolation really doesn’t make sense. ‘Dive Pt 1’ introduces the piece with mournful sighing strings and lush guitar strums while Emma Ruth Rundle intimates an emotional prelude to lost love. Her final words “I’ve missed you” leaving the listener tentatively pondering where Jettison will take them. The familiar tap-tap trickery of Chris Wee steps up the tempo for ‘Dive Pt.2’ and the beautiful mix of strings and basic drums/guitar/bass effortlessly pleases as the strings swoop and soar. The Arco String Quartet live and breathe a wondrous majesty, creating an otherworldly atmospheric and when those angelic multi-layered voices float in, this section soars to heavenly heights. I can only imagine how good this will feel with the visuals accompanying the music. Wee gets to cut loose as this part winds into something more muscular, yet still retaining an air of calm and decorum.
The clipped guitars at the start of ‘Lung’ echo the Letters EP when the band made the full-on jump into math rock. For the first time Rory gets to work up a little fretboard frenzy and things get jazzy too with some dexterous drumming from Wee. Clutch’s Neil Fallon is the next voice heard on the record, replying back with a booming “I missed you”. He recalls better days and being in love as the instrumentation springs and pops with a euphoric enthusiasm. For the first time there is a sizeable swell in volume and you get a thrilling feeling of things about to erupt. The strings take flight and are an enthralling delight adding colourful hues. That screeching airplane going down guitar that appeared on The Endless Shimmering can be faintly heard and then the band take things down to an almost silence, they were only teasing you.
Emma and Neil briefly meet in the laid back ‘Hold’ section as the dynamics of the piece simmer down to minimal percussion and the experimental tones of Heirs makes a return. It never ceases to amaze how ASIWYFA continue to evolve their sound exploring new territories. It was apparent to me that Friers had a wider vision when I worked on a track with the band many moons ago. This section is extremely cinematic and as the track builds to a tumultuous end the emotions run high. Up until now each part has neatly segued together. There’s a distinct break though for ‘Submerge’ as the instrumentation fades to almost silence before coming back with the seismic thuds of Wee’s kick drum. It’s worth pointing out the brilliant dynamic of the erstwhile sticksman, he controls the flow of Jettison with supreme beats. At last, the band’s post-metal edge gets to land some cutting chops as the volume switches up considerably with crunchy distortion and fiery solos.
As this section winds to a close, bass man Johnny Adgers gets to lay down some dubby grooves and the dynamic shifts yet again before cracking back into the explosive ‘Erupt’. The twin guitar attack of Friers and Kennedy recall the huge sounds of The Endless Shimmering and the band lock into a furious gut twisting string bending flurry of noise. The penultimate section is ‘Jettison’, which blends swooning strings and dexterous guitar noodling to stunning effect. When the BIG pay-off finally comes it’s a euphoric and orgasmic blast of crunchy guitar soloing, earth shaking bass and Wee’s God of Thunder battering. The Arco String Quartet elevate the band’s super tight playing ably matching them with intensity and fire. In these times of fear and anxiety this piece of music makes you want to reach your arms aloft and punch the air with righteous defiance and strength. Thank you Rory, Niall, Johnny and Chris.
The closing moments of ‘Jettison’ lay out some blissful drones, that defiant shout leaving you emotional and exposed. The creeping fear returns in ‘A.D. Poet’ as the strings oscillate back to the original sounds that introduced this stunning piece of music. Like the dying embers of Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ the strings sigh with the quality of a classical symphony. The moment when Emma Ruth Rundle quietly intones for one last time “I’ve missed you” is truly a moment that gets you right in the gut, with every listen.
Mooted some time ago before the pandemic ruined fucking EVERYTHING, Jettison was probably meant to have been done and dusted as another chapter in the band’s considerable career to date. The state of the world we live in now adds to the sheer emotional weight of this music. I found this album difficult to approach too with my allegiance to former band member Tony Wright weighing heavy on my conscience. But the power of the music wins here and I cannot write anything other than high praise for this exceptional piece of music. Once again, And So I Watch You From Afar have continued to evolve their musical vision and created another outstanding body of work.