Funny how some things work out, isn't it? It's been almost 18 months since Tony Wright departed And So I Watch You From Afar. His departure came at a time when things were really starting to kick off for the Belfast band. Second album Gangs had been released to much fanfare, and it seemed everything was falling into place for the quartet. Then Wright left. He, Rory Friers, Chris Wee and Johnny Adger had been together as a group for five years, and lesser bands might have been shattered by such an occurrence. Not ASIWYFA, though. After all, the closing track on Gangs was called 'Lifeproof', and it could be argued that they emerged from that setback stronger than ever, with ex-Panama Kings member Niall Kennedy becoming a permanent member of the band. Then, last June, their label, Richter Collective, announced that it was closing down. Luckily, Sargent House swooped in to rescue some of that label's leading lights, ASIWYFA and Adebisi Shank among them. A whole lot changed for the band within those 10 months; they could have stuck to their guns and released an album that was simply a further evolution of their sound, but they didn't - they gave us All Hail Bright Futures instead, on which they don't take a step forward so much as completely reinvent themselves.

There's no question that they have always sounded better live than on record - that's no criticism, as the material from their first two albums still goes off in a live setting, and they're sounding better than ever on stage. While the self-titled debut and Gangs still sound absolutely huge, clinging to their old sound after such monumental shake-ups within the band would have been an act of stubbornness. They're ready to move on from that, to bigger and brighter things. Bigger and brighter songs, too - much of the material on All Hail Bright Futures is pop-oriented, in a way: the Celtic-influenced loop that kickstarts 'Eunoia' and opens the album is as bold a statement as we've ever heard from the band. Then, we move into previously uncharted territory, with vocals singing actual words (!) instead of the infectious 'na-na-nas' that peppered their earlier work. "The sun is in our eyes," they proclaim, as tension builds before a segue into 'Big Thinks Do Remarkable', which actually contains something close to a conventional song structure. Are the band doing something as unthinkable as mellowing out?

Not really - they're just finding different ways of expressing themselves. 'Like a Mouse' brings the rock, with thundering drums and one of those vocal hooks, and 'Ambulance' is possibly the weirdest they've ever sounded (by their standards), with processed guitars, trumpets and even a piano coda (played by drummer Chris Wee, no less), but if you think this is where the surprises end, you're miles off. Three-parter 'The Stay Golden' follows, lasts about eight-and-a-half minutes and features all of the following: cowbells, synths, a tropical-sounding section (with honest-to-goodness steel drums) and a section written for brass and strings. That suite is, in itself, a nice summation of what the album's all about: ASIWYFA learning to loosen up and have fun. I've no doubt that the experience of creating their other albums was fun in itself, but this is the first time it's really come across on record. How many bands do you know who would toss a flute and melodica into a post-rock song just for the hell of it (as they do on 'Mend and Make Safe')?

There's no mistaking that the band created this album to start pushing boundaries. They could go further than this if they wanted - the one-two punch of 'Ka Ba Ta Bo Da Ka' and companion track 'Things Amazing' (which has an almost dancey feel to it) proves that point just fine - but All Hail Bright Futures is brave enough as it stands. The title track features the band at their most straightforward (which ironically makes it one of the most unusual songs on the album - since when have ASIWYFA ever kept it simple?), and the massed-vocal explosion that is 'Young Brave Minds' closes the album in a cataclysmic manner. In both a literal and figurative sense, they're not the band they used to be - they're so much more, and for a variety of reasons (but mostly the accessibility and sheer inventiveness of it all), their new album is definitely their best yet.