by Vlad / Rock at Night Detroit
EP Review: ASHRR’s self-titled EP ASHRR-Release date December 7, 2018
Not to be confused with the froth of synthpop, “synth rock” was once the domain of accomplished bands like Ultravox and early Simple Minds (think Empires and Dance) and, closer to North America, Missing Persons and Moev. It also included legacy bands like King Crimson that managed to shed their prog rock baggage. Yes, many mainstream rock bands appropriated elements of this sound, but the spirit of their sound was rooted elsewhere.
Trading in sonic and vocal atmospheres, this music visited challenging and sometimes oblique spaces and shapes. Its aural and conceptual influences were modern European music and not the blues/rock/jazz groundings of popular American and Brit music. Its aural palette was largely analog synths, yes, but crucially it also included angular guitar workings, processed, spare rhythms from real drum kits….and vocals. It sounded and felt organic (and was hugely enjoyable to witness performed live).
It seemed to all end, however, with the twin asteroid strikes of the Yamaha DX7 and digital samplers. The generation of electronic music that ensued was surface and simulation—all virtualized, with little electricity surging through its circuits. Was all connection to synthrock lost?
On its eponymous debut EP, Los Angeles-based trio ASHRR champions this sonic legacy. Think of them as Ka-El (the infant Man of Steel) from the 70s Superman film, cast as infants from a sonic yesteryear into an escape pod, braced with lessons that would prep them for survival in an alien sonic world of Autotune and Garageband loops.
The group’s just-dropped eponymous EP confidently evokes the hallmark idioms of the most-memorable synthrock—somber atmospheric (analog) synth musings, punctuated by staccato fretwork and insistent rhythms, not to mention vocals that project uncertainty and fragile state of mind. Pay attention to standout tracks “Paper Glass” and “Here”, where vocalist Steven Davis conjures a gravity worthy of the deep churning generated by his bandmates. (Davis’ baritone does remind one of a restrained Ian McColluch or Moev’s late Dean Russell.)
But these are not nostalgic reworkings or derivative pastiche. They’re vibrant, highly listenable tracks. These are times that mirror the uncertainty and dread of synthrock’s heyday, and Davis and the lads deliver moods appropriate for them. One looks forward to their forthcoming LP.
ASHRR is Steven Davis (vocals), Ethan Allen (instruments/programming/vocals), and Josh Charles (instruments/programming/vocals).
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