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Wednesday, 22 July 2009

Ashtray Navigations - 'The Love that Whirrs' (Last Visible Dog)

This trio lineup of Phil Todd, Alex Neilson, and Ben Reynolds stuffs this disc with guitar tones, decaying note ambience and stale cigarette-infused air. Despite the minidisc-style recording this feels quite slick - after all it's a "proper" CD and not the usual edition of 20 -- and though you can hear the general room sounds, it sounds great. Maybe this shows what some proper mastering can do for you. I had a discussion a few years back with someone, back when this whole underground noise/drone CD-r/cassette scene was experiencing a flareup, and they said that they still viewed full-length LPs and "proper" CDs as the major statements/albums -- and the tapes/CDrs as "singles". I've seen it that way ever since and I think a lot of artists affiliated with that scene do too, even if they may not articulate it as such. The Love that Whirrs is truly an album then, as it boasts a few 'big' tracks. 'Psychedelic Psamosa' is the centerpiece, beginning with Reynolds' acoustic fingerpicking while Phil and Alex build up a thick blanket of scrapes and drones around it. I love how spacious the sound is, yet you can tell it was certainly recorded in a tiny room or dingy Leeds basement - it's a false expansiveness, a cavernous facade on council housing. The acoustic guitar (also present on the final track) creates some distinct notes to poke out of the air, but it's quickly consumed by the all-encompassing sound blanket. The Vibracathedral Orchestra comparison is easy to make, particularly as they just live down the street and both groups indulge in thick minimalist psychedelia with acoustic instruments, but Ashtray introduce a great deal more tension into their interactions. Plus it's a smaller group to begin with, and Ashtray aren't afraid to branch out into harsh noise, musique concrete or straighter-folk forms - all of which are present, in glimpses, on this record. This came out reasonably close to Four More Raga Moods yet it's this one I tend to pull out most frequently, as it feels generally more cohesive.

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