Review : A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Ashes Grammar
CokemachineglowAt what moment did Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion first announce itself as some next-level candidate for album of the year? If you said somewhere between the ecstatic outburst of drumming in opener “In the Flowers” and the first chorus of “My Girls”—which is to say, somewhere in the album’s opening minutes—then you’re not alone. There’s something about those segments that’s almost biological, something that makes attentions and skins prick alike. Shit’s fundamental. And despite Animal Collective’s tendency towards whooshing abstractions their particular kind of melodic and percussive perfection has appeal that’s pretty much immediate if most’s nigh hyperbolic reactions are any indication. When “My Girls” leaked there seemed to be an almost universal acknowledgment that MPP would be an album that was impossible to ignore, an album that would be, as a foregone conclusion, simply great. It turned out to be more complicated than that of course, with the album’s success a confluence of the band’s gradual development towards accessibility, that it followed Panda Bear’s much-lauded Person Pitch (2007), the demographic penetration of those early leaks, the unintentional and still strategically perfect endorsements by certain other popular bands, etc. Nonetheless: the rest is history. MPP seems destined for most media outlets’ AOTY list, in a spot right at the top.
There’s some bittersweet notion then that an album as good as A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s Ashes Grammar is going to get slept on even in a year when a band like Animal Collective will top year end lists. Should this not instead be the year of cosmic justice, of bedfellows and demographic emergence? Why can’t one lead to the other? What better year than a year when Animal Collective becomes the mainstream for everyone to get turned on to exciting sounds of this Philadelphia band?
Which brings us to “Failure,” the second fully formed song from the band’s second album, which also serves as unintentional announcement and biological catalyst of the greater beast that is Ashes Grammar and 2009’s other best album. Consider this review preemptive: the album is more likely to be remembered for being released in the same year as MPP as it is for its own merits and I’m yelling from the rooftops here. This band may not have the same confluence of events or context on their side with which to launch the record to exciting places, but “Failure,” whether listened to loudly or intimately in headphones, somehow stirs those same reserves as “My Girls”; it’s stratospheric keys and tumbling drums appeal on a similarly genetic level; it implies that the music to follow—every gorgeous lick of it—should be impossible to ignore. Ashes Grammar should launch a career....full text
PitchforkThe predominance of digital-editing software and increased use of sampling have made piecing together an album a much easier task than it once was. Ashes Grammar, the sophomore album from Philadelphia septet A Sunny Day in Glasgow, doesn't sound composed with modern tools-- overdubs ad infinitum-- but like pop music masterfully puzzled together. Featuring bushels of tracks that blur the line between interlude and song, many listeners will associate the two-dozen-strong tracklist with either unfinished business or lazy editing, but Ashes Grammar is a surprisingly disciplined affair. Watch the band tunnel a small groove during "Evil, With Evil, Against Evil", drop it, and pick it back up again before moving quickly on. They mine the ringing, orbital electronics of "Canalfish" for 90 gorgeous seconds before letting it slip into "Loudly"'s more concrete whoosh. "Passionate Introverts", however, needs its four-plus minutes of glowing pulse to deliver its serpentine melodies and abstracted nostalgia ("Do you believe in dinosaurs at all?", asks the chorus), and SDIG provide it the necessary breathing room. Summed, the shifting tracks pull Ashes Grammar through its hour-long runtime smoothly and patiently.
Ashes Grammar is more propulsive than SDIG's debut, Scribble Mural Comic Journal, whose effects-heavy compositions sometimes felt leaden or overconsidered. "Blood White" and "Loudly" thrum along with Krautrock-y beats. Those rhythms, when mixed with SDIG's lite-psych jams, recall Caribou's The Milk of Human Kindness or Múm's whipped electro-folk. The band plays with contrast, often layering their catchiest and most concrete vocals ("Passionate Introverts [Dinosaurs]", "Failure") over their least tidy, far-flung compositions, while their most traditionally orchestrated moments ("The White Witch", "Close Chorus") receive affected cooing and wordless harmonizing.
Twin sisters Robin and Lauren Daniels don't have remarkable voices, but they blend well with both each other and Ashes Grammar's unhurried pop. If there's a real complaint to be lobbed at Ashes Grammar it's that the sisters' voices are too often buried, and their mushmouth-y Liz Fraser-timbres too willingly blended into the pooled sonics. If SDIG didn't imbue so much of Ashes Grammar with a terse rhythmic presence, many of these songs would easily be swept into the ether....full text
Allmusic"Failure," the heady, glimmering fourth track on A Sunny Day in Glasgow's second full-length, 2009's Ashes Grammar, might just sum up the anxiety that led to the release of this album: "Fall forward, feel failure." In the two years since their 2007 debut came out, ASDIG have endured some serious (and largely involuntary) changes: bassist Brice Hickey was out of commission soon after recording was underway thanks to a broken leg; founding vocalist Lauren Daniels, busy with grad school, couldn't appear on the album; and her sister, vocalist Robin, was too busy tending to Hickey to spend much time in the studio. In spite of these setbacks, Ashes Grammar is a far more confident and cohesive album than its predecessor. Scribble Mural's ambitious multi-layered approach tended to weigh the album down; Ashes Grammar's artsy audio explorations, on the other hand, are generally fashioned around solid skeletons of pop-oriented hooks, lightening the listening experience considerably. This album features some of ASDIG's most pop-oriented work to date; tissuey, ghostly tracks like "Shy" and "Ashes Maths" and the comparatively angular, My Bloody Valentine-esque "The White Witch" stand up well next to Scribble Mural's very best moments. Really, the only complaint to be had with Ashes Grammar is its size. This disc is huge, almost self-indulgently so; clocking in at 22 tracks, Ashes Grammar demands quite a bit more patience than the average long-player, especially when it comes to cerebral, atmospheric material like this. The album's standout tracks suffer a little as a result -- by the time track 14 rolls around, it's a little difficult to hang on to the pounding exhilaration of "Failure." Those who power through this album, though, will be richly rewarded by ASDIG's diaphanous, highly intelligent take on noise pop....full text
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