Thursday, September 17, 2009
Album: Ashes Grammar
Mis Ojos Discos, 2009
Rating: ****** (6/10)
I’ve been sitting on this album for months now, listening from time to time and trying to figure out what to write. Finally, the release date (September 15) snuck right past me, and still nothing written.
Finally, I have to admit that it’s simply not a remarkable album. I’ve known of ASDIG long before I started this site, and was a major fan from the start. Their walls of electronic and guitar sounds are startling and make what feels like a physical impact (like running into a brick wall, yeah?). This coupled with an underdeveloped but clear pop sensibility made the band a quick favorite.
As such, I’ve been looking forward to this album since last fall (actually, you can read proof of that in my first RFR review ever, which was of ASDIG’s CMJ show) and when I got my hard copy and put it in my stereo this summer, I was prepared for a mind-blowing experience. Instead…nothing.
I didn’t and don’t hate this album by any stretch. It certainly has its good moments. But it’s not only fair but even necessary to judge an album based on its ambitions, and at twenty-two tracks, it’s clear this record aimed high. An album made as party music can be judged on being fun and catchy, but one like this must be evaluated for its artistic achievements, sonically and conceptually. And held to its own high standards, Ashes Grammar fails.
First of all, there is the lack of hooks and melodies to engage the listener. A few songs, starting with the unexpectedly bouncy "Failure" (already the fourth track) are head-nod-able, though you have dig through quite a bit of chaff to find them. And no matter how hard you search, you won’t find a riff in over an hour of music.
That’s not to say that melodies, riffs and hooks are the only way music can be good. Unfortunately, this album doesn’t really succeed on other fronts either. Although there is a vague sense of journey from track to track, the album doesn’t leave you far from where it started. On both the song and album levels, Ashes stagnates. A sense of composition is, quite simply, absent.
Given the CMJ set last fall and other murmurings, I was expecting an album with balls, something loud and edgy and aggressive. Instead, this sports more semi-choral vocals, gradual volume shifts and seemingly arbitrary synthesized tones. I don’t have much love of wussy music that isn’t pop, since I can’t find anything to hold on to. Songs like this album’s title track seem decidedly un-brave.
The album does occasionally shine. "Failure" is a welcome relief from monotony, and "Passionate Introverts" is the closest the album comes to meeting my expectations. Sadly, the few good tracks are diluted by the sheer track count on the album, and finding them buried in the snooze-fest hardly seems worth the effort.