When a band follows a promising debut with a couple lacklustre albums, it can be concerning. However, when those lacklustre albums are followed by one that's cataclysmically bad, it can feel like their time as an act worth following is over. How can you dig yourself out of such a deep pit? The only case for things getting better seems to be the unlikelihood of them getting even worse.

Heirs, the fourth album from Belfast post/math-rockers And So I Watch You From Afar felt like a band out of ideas. It took their turn into misguided euphoria with group vocals on All Hail Bright Futures and made it even more unbearable. Tracks were jam-packed with activities but absolutely bereft of ideas. It sounded like their bid to become the Arcade Fire of Belfast, but the muddy mix just further dulled already static songs. (Call it Nothing Now.)

Thankfully, with their fifth album, The Endless Shimmering, ASIWYFA have steered away from the forced euphoria of late and released their best album. In a recent interview with The 405, the band referred to it as a “return to form.” But it isn’t as though they phoned it in and released something unsatisfying and cliched, like their sophomore effort, Gangs. The Endless Shimmering makes good on the potential shown by their self-titled debut. They no longer sound desperate to impress. Instead, they give each track the fuel it needs and ride it out with vehement precision.

From the moment opener ‘Three Triangles’ lifts off with beautiful warbling guitar and shotgun snares from drummer Chris Wee, trepidation dissipates. Like the instrumental equivalent of a killer opening line or couplet, this is an immediate indication that this album was made by people who know what they’re doing and love what they’re doing, from the squealy soloing in the song’s mid-section to its driving conclusion. The album was recorded live, over the course of nine days, in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, and their sense of camaraderie is palpable right away.

Three digitized beats are all the respite we get between ‘Three Triangles,’ and the proper start of a track that could go down as ASIWYFA’s best: ‘A Slow Unfolding of Wings’. What sounds on paper like a staid exercise in crescendo (maybe a slow drumroll for a few measures, followed by some light picking, then around the five-minute mark, we turn on the distortion pedal?), instead feels like a work of unrestrained freedom. While it does recede at times before getting big again, it’s never done in a way that feels dull. The quieter moments here deserve as much due as the ‘big’ ones. On the lovely title track, the guitar melodies from Rory Friers and Niall Kennedy are subdued but not indistinct or indistinguishable. Even when the time comes for high-register soloing, they keep things sensible and ensure the song is about more than showing off their impressive technical skills. The Endless Shimmering is one of the best guitar albums you’ll hear this year, because Friers and Kennedy know there’s more to playing their instrument than knowing how to play it.

On ‘All I Need Is Space,’ they start off rather unassuming and end with thick bass (courtesy of Johnathan Adger), blistering drums, and fuzzy guitars, delivering an onslaught but ending it before it becomes gratuitous. They give the song much of its emotional heft before then, with touching glockenspiel, steady bass, and a main guitar line that’s eager but never insufferable. The Endless Shimmering is often as fun as it is breathtaking. The guitars near the end of ‘Terrors of Pleasure’ become so liquidy, they feel saturating. The at-first graceful ‘Mullaly’ repeatedly shifts and becomes so furiously warped, it’s like witnessing an unbreakable mineral being crushed, its fragments subsequently shot into the air. Even a relatively weak track like ‘I’ll Share a Life’ is still a greatly enriching experience, subverting expectations once again by allowing drum rolls for the sake of drum rolls at multiple points, and giving plenty of time for fun on the fretboards. ASIWYFA sound looser and better than ever on this album.

When the time comes to get serious, they use it well. ‘Dying Giants’ lives up to its title. The initial bass drum moves at such a rate that it feels like a countdown to a demise of someones or somethings. When it hits its apex, it really does sound like it’s on the verge of some kind of malfunctioning death, as though it’s a dying giant robot. The epilogue of guitar melody and strings give it a lovely eulogy. On closer, ‘Chrysalism’, a suspenseful guitar melody and delicate cymbal hits lead into a progression that gets stormier and stormier, to the point that you can feel the destruction with every wave of guitar until the song and album’s receding conclusion. Thanks to the band’s sense of restraint, they can make a thunderous wall of guitars on a post-rock album sound exciting again.

The Endless Shimmering is such a relief to listen to. It’s not just a correction for the band, it’s also a redemption and a potential catalyst for an exciting new stage in their career as instrumental rock leaders. They sound hungrier than ever on this nine-track album, which was reportedly cut down from an initial group of about 30. After their last album, I wasn’t sure I ever wanted to hear a new And So I Watch You From Afar song again. After listening to this one, I want to hear about 21 more right away.