Monday, July 14, 2008

Ashtray Navigations - Snakestrings / Hollywood Taught You to Kiss (Memoirs of an Aesthete 2XCD-R)

Ever since I heard that Ruralfaune comp with the Ashtray Navigations single on it, I've been waiting to pick up a full length from Phil Todd and co. So when this double disc came out, I couldn't make anymore excuses and snagged it right quick. Needless to say, no let downs there.

Comprised of two forty minute discs, each consisting of just one track, the whole package is a wild ride. The whole thing starts out with the solo set of Snakestrings, a slow burner on which Todd plays no less than fifteen instruments including guitars, drums, shells, electric sitar, a plethora of synths, radio and something called space echo. Whatever half of the things on this list are, they sure do sound nice together. Starting with the slow klinking of bells over some high frequency drone for about five minutes, Todd eventually comes in with a raga line, slowly expanding the sonic palette over an ever-enlarging mass of droned out bliss. If this sounds cheesy at all (and it well may--people have been using raga for new agey meandering since well before Ravi Shankar) it isn't at all. This is way more dense and weird than anything that that may suggest, and it builds itself in such a beautifully controlled way that you really can't help but bow down before whatever powers Todd is beckoning. I'm almost tempted to say that he's looping all of this stuff live, and if that's the case this is an especially impressive accomplishment. Of course if that isn't the case it hardly refutes Todd's singular grasp on this aesthetic. It's as much psychedelic is it is raga, as much drone as it is aimless mind-fuckery. All of it is performed with such clear mastery over his aesthetic that you can't do much to refute any of it... it's slow and steady, but the movements really drive the work along, never losing momentum.

And on to disc two.

Hollywood Taught You to Kiss is a trio effort featuring Melanie Crowley and Phil Legard. Crowley's on Evolver, a nice little synth, and space echo while Legard's credited with lead guitar, theremin and voice. Todd has his usual mix of equipment, includingwasp synth, air-fx, electric scruti box and audiomuleh. Some of this has to be some homemade equipment right? Either way, Hollywood's an altogether different beast than Snakestrings. Rather than the ambling psychedelia of the former, this is an electronic lurcher, a rela beast of rich bass drones and chugging rhythms, all with enough details flying in and around it to keep you on your toes. Weird gurgling synth lines meander across as the guitar falls into the echoing drum clatter, all of it meshing into one solid beast. If anything comes across especially, it's that this was played loud as hell, and likely in a live setting. Still though, it's tough to pin down any specifics from it. Todd pulls from so many disparate categories--in this case there's definitely an industrial tinge in there--but the basics still seem to stem from psychedelic electronics and drone. The patience exhibited here is again a virtue, and the approach is practically the same as the previous disc: build it up and ride it out. The slight shifts that occur do so patiently, changing the overall structure of the piece in a highly fluid and amorphous way. There are no sudden changes, only additions and subtractions as it grows denser and denser, a kind of bubbling power rock trio who just discovered the marvels of circuit bending. Cosmic.

The album is released on Todd's on label and is packaged in a nice little paper bag shaded foldout that's limited to 99 copies. Probably still available from the usual distributors (volcanic tongue, aquarius, fusetron etc.) I'd give my loop pedal to see this guy live if he ever makes it back to the states. That's a request dude, really.


Albany Sonic Arts Collective said...

ahh, you've discovered the magic of Ash Navs. These two are the only the tip of the iceberg! yeah!!

Henry Smith said...

i can see that... the guy has released a TON of material. i'm holding off on an eclipse order, but he'll certainly be included when the time comes!