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Ashley Reaks - Power Failure

  by Lisa Torem

published: 8 / 6 / 2013

Ashley Reaks - Power Failure
Label: Ashley Reaks
Format: CD


Turbulent but hypnotic fifth album from Harrogate-based experimental artist, Ashley Reaks

Harrogate’s Ashley Reaks is always up to something new, absurd or even questionable, but he’s never dull and consistently moves forward as a creative expressionist. He is also intelligent enough to bring back players who enhanced his previous work. For example, his new CD, 'Power Failure', includes the vocal magic of repeat guest Maria Jardardottir, who contributes fascinating nuance and a heap of glamour to this singer-songwriter’s oft-experimental repertoire. On the 2008 recording, 'Melancholia', she was a definite highlight. Sultry sax player Ian Peak and another multi-instrumentalist Dan Mizen also return. Reak’s last CD, 'Here’s to the Good Life', included country and folk ballads that evoked powerful imagery and tragic love interests. 'Power Failure' with its jewellery box motifs and burrowing soundscapes hearkens back more, however, to 'Melancholia'. Besides being a multi-instrumentalist himself - he plays guitar, bass and keys - Reaks is a serious arranger who remains an intrepid pop/rock force, despite a somewhat nonlinear trajectory. The album combines many moods and styles, opening with ‘Egg to Worm to Fly,’ an ambient angry rant flavoured with hypnotic, savage drums. Those drums and the Jah Ruhl type bass build as splashes of girl choir bleed over symphonic jabs. Meanwhile a male counter rhythm states “sexual violence is everywhere.” A keyboard riff tiptoes beneath the turbulent currents. ‘Lucky Gordon’ is loaded with lush melody and quirky sound bytes. Jardardottir lends an air of eroticism. This is followed by ‘No Wonder Camels Spit’. An extraordinary cluster of notes introduces this epic. It recalls minimalist Philip Glass at his finest hour, and is a movie soundtrack just waiting for the right director’s invitation. ‘Bulldog Grace’ exudes a more mysterious groove with its unnerving lyric of “Milk white woman lyin’ on the ground” and the repetitive “Bulldog Grace, reptile face.” Dave Kemp’s smooth sax and Lucy Mizen’s spitfire vocals gell well with the myriad of industrial clashes. ‘Karma Bonfire’ is the one co-write, with Joe Hakim, amongst Reak’s otherwise completely original platter. Kemp adds a bohemian blitz and Jardardottir inserts her stunning scale tones. It’s a spoken word reflection on drudgery and shattered dreams. “Shredded all my clothes and threw them out the window…” the story goes. “A life spent in cages,” and “I was lost in a forest of compromise” tell well of the author’s bleak history. ‘Miss Holy Holy’ is like a modern day Gregorian chant or an airtight barbershop quartet inflected with a gritty-edged, rather profane lead vocal. ‘Skin Crawl’ is an absorbing combo of rap, ambience and urban street angst set against sooty images; separated by a few dreamy cadences. In ‘The Glance of Mercy’ Peak blazes through the beginning and then settles in graciously for the rest of the roller coaster ride. Reaks superbly shows off his versatile compositional skills. The closer, ‘Jesus in the Manger,’ is earmarked by stylized gibberish, bleeding sax and swanky progressive rock/blues guitar. There’s really a little of everything here except for Reak’s touching balladry. But 'Power Failure' will keep your synapses happily agitated, despite the name.

Track Listing:-
1 Egg Worm to Fly
2 Lucky Gordon
3 No Wonder Camels Spit
4 Bulldog Grace
5 Karma Bonfire
6 Miss Holy Holy
7 Skin Crawl
8 The Glance of Mercy
9 Jesus in the Manger

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The Earth Swan Sings Again (2018)
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Before Koresh (2015)
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