Sometimes, what makes an album great is its ability to focus you instantly on the task at hand. Kraftwerk, Aphex Twin, New Order — with a strong, quick beat and under-the-radar vocals, it’s not just music to work to, it’s music by which to get work done. Now, for the opposite — the best music to achieve slack-jawed daydreams and unproductive intellectual asides — features … strong, quick beats and under-the-radar vocals? How is that fair?
A Sunny Day In Glasgow’s 2009 effort Ashes Grammar toes this line very closely, but isn’t afraid to go off the deep end and into a haze of blissful white noise every so often. It’s easy to see the connection in the album art, with all the idiosyncrasies of paint drips and watercolor trails, layering infinitely and blooming into new colors. There’s a weird play on the order/chaos dynamic going on in this cover (as in the music), with the drops and colors color congregating in certain spots and jutting off in contradictory/straight/parallel lines.
The start of Ashes Grammar knows no subtlety. The first track, titled “Magna for Annie, Josh, and Robin” after then-current bandmates, crashes in at 11 seconds and features a single echoed line, sung to an audience which will invariably forget everything about it — an interesting tactic in its own right. The second track, featured above, is titled “Secrets at the Prom” and last slightly longer at 43 seconds. The added length doesn’t guarantee added attention from the listener. In fact, most people (myself included) won’t really latch on to anything until rumbling bass kicks off the third track. But this is a song of pure distraction, not tethered to the brash beginning or responsible for hooking the listener in. It’s a track that serves as a swirling layer cake of vocals and reverb that’s amazingly hard to recall, even if you actively try.
At 6 1/2 minutes, “Close Chorus” is the longest track on the albums, which comes as something of a surprise since it also represents one of the more direct and pop-driven numbers present. Its length lends itself to a slightly more epic quality than the rest of the tracks on Ashes Grammar, which usually clock in between 30 seconds and 4 minutes. The track swirls in and out of resolute backbeats and space-engulfed cymbal crashes, along with the never-ending echoes of each vocalist. In spite of those dreamy qualities, the song is structured in an oddly disjointed way that draws the attention of the listener and broadcasts its hooks effectively.
It may seem like an album about turning on, tuning in and dropping out, but Ashes Grammar has more depth to it than that. As the album art suggests, there are more than a few strains of logic playing out behind the hazy backdrops on each track. It’s definitely an album that makes for an interesting exercise in re-listening and concentration — there’s something about those translucent lines and seas of reverb that get you thinking.
Artist: A Sunny Day In Glasgow
Album: Ashes Grammar
Tracklist & Review (Allmusic)