new from empire ashnav: recent ashtray navigations

April 21, 2013 at 6:55 pm | Posted in new music, no audience underground | Leave a comment
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Ashtray Navigations / Pelktopia – split (vinyl album, YŌGOH RECORD, YGH001)

Ashtray Navigations – Cloud Come Cadaver (CD-r, Memoirs of an Aesthete, MOA 2013-2)

cloud come cadaverashtray pelktopia split

Comrades!  Sound the alarums and light the beacons!  Blow those long thin trumpet things with banners hanging off them!  Kill something and roast it!  For here we have emanations from the very throne room of Empire AshNav itself!  In summary: two new releases by Ashtray Navigations, at length: see below.

The split album with Pelktopia is presented on the heritage medium of 12″ vinyl as the first release from fledgling Japanese label YŌGOH RECORD.  It is packaged in a white-on-black illustrated sleeve that will infuriate collectors as it is impossible to keep free of finger marks, even if your hand washing routine is insane.  That quibble aside: lovely object.  Phil was paid for his contribution, apparently, as well as being sent plentiful freebies and has acknowledged this largesse by providing work of the highest quality in return.

The opener, ‘Soft Sculpture Mountain Machine’, is a brief, optimistic scene-setter.  Excited but laid-back, it acknowledges that cool things are afoot by pulling its sunglasses down its nose slightly and winking at our hero, the Faun.  Faun turns to the window and sees the bay, jewelled with sparkling sunshine, as the plane comes in to land at Naples International Airport.  The centrepiece, ‘Afternoon of a Yorkshire Faun’,  is part Debussy homage, part music concrete, part psych-ambient-mini-epic.  The Faun finds herself sunbathing on the deck of a yacht (the good ship ‘Marginalia’ presumably – heh, heh – a reference for the long-term fans there) as it sails purposefully along the Amalfi coast.  Phil is at the wheel, cap at a jaunty angle.  The lapping of the Mediterranean against the hull sounds suspiciously like the traffic on Kirkstall Road recorded on a microphone dangled out of a bathroom window.  But that can’t be right, eh?  Faun drifts in and out of sleep listening to the sounds of the boat, the sea, the blood in her ears.  The third and final track, ‘The Car Ears’, joins Faun in a Capri nightclub later, a 1960s-style psychedelic ‘happening’ in full swing.  Todd’s tropical guitar is frying the chemically augmented crowd.  Guys lean at louche angles, girls – including Faun – dance, ignoring their sunburn, abandoned in the ego dissolving rhythmic crackle.

The Pelktopia side is really good too.  Minimal, haunted, ambient guitar-scapes that could well be the dehydrated dreams of Faun as she sleeps off the night and rubs mascara onto her pillow.

Terrific stuff, highly recommended.  Details of how to get hold of it on the Ashtray Navigations blog (though ask before sending money – it may be sold out).

Cloud Come Cadaver is a four track album, self-released on Phil’s own Memoirs of an Aesthete label, available on the space-age medium of CD-r and/or download from that Bandcamp.  It is packaged in an attractively bling silver cover adorned with Phil’s unmistakeable cartoon artwork (of which I am a big fan).  The vibe is less sun-baked than the above.  The fuzz, whilst remaining thoroughly psychedelic, is more insistent, has more bite to it.  The blue here is not the luxurious azure of the warm Mediterranean but rather the grey-tinged shade of the morning sky.

The opener, ‘Mushfinger Cadaver’, starts loud, unignorable, like an alarm clock, but soon settles as we throw back the covers and adjourn to the balcony for breakfast.  The gathering pulse documents the waking of the alien city spread out below our vantage point.  Gulls eating yesterday’s scraps in the market square are chased away and fly over the walls towards the port.

‘Granite Phalli’ is driven and irresistible but has the lightness of touch you’d find in some of my favourite Krautrock.  It shares the retro-futurist vibe of that genre too: a sort of nostalgia for the idea of a technological idyll that we are now too old and wise (or cynical) to believe will ever come to pass.  Its groove suggests a journey towards this unreachable destination and we end up agreeing with Kraftwerk (‘fun, fun, fun on the autobahn’) that to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.  The third track is the joker in the pack: ‘Like 12 Xmas Dinners Stacked On Top of Each Other’ could be the soundtrack  to a five-minute long claymation remake of Blade Runner.

Lastly, we have the appropriately named ‘The Final Hit’.  This track takes us back to the nightclub in Capri where Faun was dancing.  This time, though, we are in the head of one the guys propped in a corner.  The psychedelic guitar is still raging but it barely penetrates the pharmacological cocoon that this well dressed burn-out has spun around himself.  He looks like an extra from a Fellini film.  Halfway through the track the scene changes to an indeterminate but luxurious new venue.  Is this the hotel?  The hospital?  The after party?  The afterlife?  Who can tell?  It’s like a ‘Comfortably Numb’ for the psych/noise underground but defiant, without a trace of self pity.  It could accompany the ‘ages of man’ sequence at the end of 2001: A Space Odyssey.  Did I mention that Ashtray Navigations are my favourite band?  This is why.

To acquire your copy, and to check out the swelling back catalogue now available via the same means, visit the Ashtray Navigations Bandcamp site.

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