Artist: And So I Watch You From Afar

Album: All Hail Bright Futures

All Hail Bright Futures, the third album from And So I Watch You From Afar and by most accounts the giddiest, feels less to me like a collection of songs (which, by formal reckoning, it is) than like rock music as a textural abstraction of joy. Guitars overlay each other in resounding major keys behind All Hail Bright Futureslayers of effects. Synthesizers burble and squiggle (or, on Things Amazing, flutter rapidly like Rick Wakeman playing cheesy organ at a minor-league baseball game across the street from you). Several songs have giddy horn sections, pushing to be heard behind the wall of guitars. Rats on Rock even has Hawaiian rhythms and instrumentation, the Stay Golden starts with African percussion, and Mend and Make Safe has a long melodic flute solo, but all are filtered through the omnipresent shimmer and pushed along by the caffeinated rock drumming of Chris Wee, whose last name should properly be Wheeeeeee. Bass and drums often play firm hard-rock rhythms, not always in 4/4, but with plenty of bounce, like if Rush in their early days had provided the soundtracks to toddler playtimes. Songs begin and end because the track player says they do, not because there’s ever a pause in the music.

Vocals, when they occur, are group-sung (the Wikipedia entry for the band doesn’t even list a vocalist), and usually feel like raggedy chants — “The sun! The sun! The sun! is in our eyes!” or “A! M-B! U! L-A-N! C-E!” — that only move among notes because everyone has too much energy to settle for a monotone. That said, the opening minute of Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka proves they can, in fact, use their voices to perform sophisticated melodic and rhythmic counterpoint. In order to convey the message “Ka ba ta bo da ka”. Which I certainly don’t disagree with.

I should remind readers that my use of the countdown format is deceptive, given the sheer amount of good music people make every year: my listing 47 other albums ahead of All Hail Bright Futures doesn’t even slightly contradict my belief that All Hail Bright Futures is an excellent and delightful record that could well and fairly be someone’s favorite. The closest things to criticism I’ll offer are that the lyrical content is almost nil, and that Rocky O’Reilly’s production makes the songs blend into each other in a way that can — despite the real variety in arrangements — feel redundant. (When string quartet and brass are allowed to carry Trails all by themselves, it’s almost stunning.) The counter to the criticisms is obvious. The production is brilliant for defining the mood, and that joyful mood tells you everything that, for 43 minutes, you could possibly wish to know.

– Brian Block

To see the rest of our favorites, visit our Favorite Albums of 2013 page!