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CD Review: Smoldering Ashes – Songs in the Key of Mountain Birds Blue

Ridiculously catchy, often haunting, sometimes dreamy and psychedelic, Smoldering Ashes’ new album blends a vintage 80s new wave feel with a little goth and an occasional off-center folk feel for considerably more diversity beyond the wary, watery sound the quartet of Veronica Ashe, Jeff Brenneman, Dirk Doucette and Tory Troutman mined on their previous album Nervous Constellations.

The album starts out auspiciously with a casually torchy noir cabaret tune done southwestern gothic style, followed by a catchy midtempo new wave hit like Blondie at their most off-kilter and interesting. The third track could be a standout cut on Siouxsie’s Kaleidoscope album, building from pounding, ominous minimalism to a stomping crescendo with growly bass chords and aggressive wah guitar solo. Nick Charles Crossing the Alps (an inside joke, maybe?) is similarly dark and chromatic, like a stripped-down second part with eerie twelve-string guitar.

Track five, Eye of the Phobia has Ashe sounding like a more pitchwise Debbie Harry singing a mid-80s janglerock hit by the Church, maybe something off the Seance album. Give Yourself a Push blends Siouxie-esque menace with gorgeously catchy art-pop, taking the volume up a notch at the end even as it drops down to just vocals and roaring distorted guitar. 9,000 Year Old Man sets a distant otherworldly choir against simple psychedelic folk, T Rex as done by Steve Kilbey; Shake an Etch-a-Sketch nicks the Joy Division classic No Love Lost, right down to the skittish drums and the way the bass swoops up at the end of a phrase. The funniest cut on the album is a cover of the old Harold Arlen vaudeville song Lydia the Tattooed Lady, ironically a thousand times more apropos now than when it was written. Ashe affects a deadpan British accent as the band whoops and hollers behind her –  Lydia, as it turns out, has festooned herself with the Battle of Waterloo,Washington Crossing the Delaware…and Alcatraz! The album winds up with a brief, off-kilter new wave fragment, the psychedelically shapeshifting Le Locataire Diabolique (a collaboration with keyboardist Hyesoo Joen) and a trippy, atmospheric number. We’re considerably late in picking up on this one – it may have come out last year (on Trakwerx) but you just might see this on our best albums of the year list this December. Who’s counting, anyway?

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April 17, 2010 Posted by | Music, music, concert, review, Reviews, rock music | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

CD Review: Smoldering Ashes – Nervous Constellations

Much of this cd is the great album the Cure should have made between Faith and Seventeen Seconds but didn’t. Same watery guitar, same dark pensive sensibility, but none of the affectations. This collaboration between Oklahoma musicians Veronica Ashe and Troy Troutman and 17 Pygmies guitarist Jeff Brennman and drummer Dirk Doucette bridges the gap between 80s goth like This Mortal Coil and Dead Can Dance and nouveau psychedelia in the sense that its ambience is warm and draws you in. Ashe’s voice has an offhand beauty not unlike indie acoustic siren Linda Draper, and the two share a terse, imaginatively playful lyricism (do they know each other?).

 

After a brief, pensive opening track spiced with some raw harmonica playing, there’s the marvelous A Comedy of Arrows. Bouncing along on a deliciously watery chorus-box bassline straight out of the Laurence Tolhurst playbook, packed with big boomy chords, it’s catchy beyond words. The following two cuts, Shenfinity and Sea Blue are a study in contrasts, the first a beautiful 6/8 reflection, the second reverting to Robert Smith style new wave pop. The next track, 1000 Birds Scatter is slow and ambient with bluesy lead guitar and a striking tempo shift on the bridge. Other standout tracks on the cd include Duct Tape and Superhero Love, a dead ringer for legendary Australian art-rockers the Church with its lush, echoey layers of guitar; The City Electric, which gets totally psychedelic with a water-droplet effect (echoes of Country Joe and the Fish, maybe?); and the beautifully deliberate, tastefully orchestrated Temporary Archive. “I believe in chaos, a chance on a mystery bus tour,” Ashe announces matter-of-factly. The cd concludes with the brief, evocatively carnivalesque Kite:

 

The carnival’s come and it’s time to say

Goodbye, cruel world…

Hello to spring, take off the mask

Put on your face

So long, string

Time to see you you fly

 

An aptly optimistic note on which to close this marvelously captivating cd, best experienced on earphones late at night.

November 18, 2008 Posted by | Music, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment