The debut of Northfield, MN based quartet Ashley, Involuntary Motion, is a nine-song beast, swaggering, sexy, and overflowing with energy.
The guitar. God, the guitar. Uhhhhhhh I love guitar so much. Ian Tsang’s playing in this album simply screams with decades of musical influence. Clapton, Hendrix, Frusciante, Hammett, and Mustaine all make brief appearances in Tsang’s playing, which carries the album on its shoulders. Largely riff-centric, these songs use Tsang’s virtuosity as a hub, and from the very opening of the first track “Plankton” I was hooked, nodding my head and grinning like an idiot.
Lead vocalist Zach Jack solidified the Cream influence in my mind; his voice is airy and light, like early Jack Bruce; his flanging falsetto in “Plankton” simply IS “White Room.” Occasionally out of tune, especially in his higher register, (see track #8 “Red Room”) Jack’s voice is the weakest instrument in the band. That sounds harsh, but hear me out – Kiedis’s voice is the weakest instrument in the Chili Peppers, and he’s fucking awesome. Jack has the swagger of Robert Plant, the whimsicality of Justin Hawkins, and his stupid fucking lyrics (“Licking sucking on a beef flavored lollipop/ Oh look I see my hands/ I don’t like you so you can’t have my tater tots/ You will not eat my friends/ What you lookin’ at dog, there ain’t nothing to see/ You ain’t fucking with me/ I will eat your face”) are unobtrusive and fun.
That’s, I think, what I love about this album. It’s fun. It’s chock-full of influences and is the most unabashed modern representation of classic rock I’ve heard in years. Track #4 “Blaspheme Breath” is my favourite. Tsang’s introduction, which sounds exactly like the opening of a Metallica power ballad, builds into a dirty, thundering chorus that showcases Jack’s honest and emotional vocals in a fantastic way.
Recorded live, these songs have a huge amount of energy; a sort of teenage, rebellious energy, joyously screaming into the world. The lyrics are vapid and shouldn’t be regarded as more than a vehicle for the vocals. I don’t even mean that critically; Led Zeppelin sometimes has shitty lyrics, Wolfmother has shitty lyrics, The Darkness has vapid (but well-written) lyrics, and those are three of my favourite bands.
But Ashley’s main foil is its members’ instrumental proficiency. I was so absorbed in Tsang’s playing, enjoying picking out each influence I could detect, that it took me until my third listen to realize how spot-on drummer Jeff Ruffato and bassist/producer Ryan Peterson are. Unafraid of funk, metal, and rock, they skillfully tackle all the genres that made the 60s and 70s so awesome. Well, except disco. The live recording flatters the band; sudden stop-time in the album’s single, track #6 “Day Dreamer,” lets Tsang give a gorgeous two-second lick. When the band comes back in I audibly laughed, full of the same youthful euphoria as when I watched KISS videos in Tom’s room at 2 am; the feeling that made me want to be a musician.
This album is not mixed and mastered in a flattering way. Jack’s vocals stick out in weird spots and the instruments are often muddy and unclear. The vocal harmonies could have been performed more carefully, as the occasional off-key note distracted me. I think what I’m trying to say is that this album sounds like a first album; it sounds like something recorded on the cheap by guys who fucking love what they do, and are fucking good at it. If they could invest in a really good recording session, isolating all the instruments, and have all the songs professionally mixed and mastered, I wouldn’t be surprised at all if Ashley quickly emerged as one of the best modern rock bands. It’s a genre that isn’t represented enough these days and it was a fucking pleasure to hear an album full of damn good rock songs.
A few days in the studio, mixing and mastering, distribution and pressing would probably cost the band about $4,000. If everyone who listens to this album pays $10 to download it and support the band, it would only take 400 fans to fund a beautiful, pristine recording. So get listening, guys. Tell your friends go to Ashley’s Bandcamp page here and let’s give America a fucking rock band again.
3. Dragon Tails
4. Blaspheme Breath
5. Wind Chime
6. Day Dreamer
8. Red Room
9. Save the Game