Letters (02.2010, Smalltown America)
For: Don Caballero, Polvo, Explosions in the Sky
Byline: blistering math-tinged, metal-inspired post-rock that is as cathartic as it is beguiling. Originally published on www.inyourspeakers.com. Used by permission from In Your Speakers, LLC.
Back in 1975 Cat Stevens penned a practically nonsensical “Pythagorean Theory Tale,” which told the tale of a fictional planet called Polygor and its inhabitants the “Polygons” (you can see where this is going). I couldn’t tell you what this story is about aside from its characters having geometry-related names that related to some aspect of truth. What I do know is that it inspired some of the worst/best song-titles ever created: “Majik of Majiks,” “Banapple Gas,” “Land of Freelove & Goodbye.” Stevens called this fiasco, Numbers.
Apparently not heeding the cautionary tale in naming your album after a loaded singular noun, Ireland’s And So I Watch You From Afar unleash “Letters.” They do so, apparently, without some Kabala-esque journey into symbolism-loaded numerology. S, D, B, K…It isn’t an anagram. It isn’t the first or last letters of each band member’s name. Perhaps it stands for Satan’s Dead Boys Klub?
As we banish all thoughts of a sci-fi epic based on the Pythagorean Theorem, we can embrace an absolutely beautiful sixteen minutes of some of the most brutal riffs and epic breakdowns in recent memory. “S Is for Salamander” offers some serious Bay Area-inspired riffage over hyper-kinetic time changes and moments of Marnie Stern-like (never Van Halen) finger-tapping guitar solos and precision-timed hand-claps. Taking cues from bands ranging from Mastodon and Explosions in the Sky, to math-rock legends Polvo, ASIWYFA create a sound that skirts the periphery of so many sub-genres it is difficult to classify what exactly it is they are playing. But it works.
“D Is For Django (the Bastard)” is the most obviously post-rock-leaning track on the album. It’s swinging jazz-based time signature is taken straight out of an early Do Make Say Think handbook. Moments like these make “Letters” even harder to classify. While never exactly brooding or subdued, “Letters” seems to have more in common with their heavier post-rock brothers in arms than metal bands of this ilk. I write this as another massive metal riff rips through my speakers on the messy, “B Is for B-Side.” The cognitive dissonance that results from trying to categorize ASIWYFA is impressive, but nothing compares to the beating my frontal lobe is experiencing from attempting to incorporate such a massive amount of sound.
The final track, “K Is For Killing Spree (An Ode To)” is the only song that even stretches over the four minute mark. The breakdown on this track is absolutely bottomless, stretching bass and guitar distortion into the only gasp of air this album takes before launching back into another assault on the senses. With all of this stand out heaviness, melody never gets away from ASIWYFA. While only four songs long, “Letters” is 100 % listenable, a testament to a marriage between brutality and accessibility.
And So I Watch You From Afar keep nothing close to their chest or up their sleeve, everything that could be poured out is poured out in a tirade of post-rock, post-metal annihilation in an unbelievably brief sixteen minutes. No self-serving prophecies or numerology on this album. Sigh.