Ash - Islands (Album Review)

Thursday, 31 May 2018 Written by Simon Ramsay

Some albums make an instant impact, others take a little time to reveal their charms. The quick-fix magic of the former often wears off swiftly, while the latter usually possess a depth of quality that screams ‘built to last’. With that in mind, any initial feelings of disappointment towards ‘Islands’, the seventh effort of Ash’s eternally youthful career, should be shelved until its stealthy allure has been given the opportunity to sink in.

If 2015’s storming ‘Kablammo!’, which saw the Northern Irish trio making full length albums again following an eight year moratorium, was vintage Ash with a peppering of new spices, ‘Islands’ is an envelope pusher that partially recalls the adventurous spirit of the band’s A-Z singles releases. But where those sprawling cuts were strictly stand alone, these songs have been glued together with a strong thematic adhesive.

Frontman Tim Wheeler has always penned bittersweet tunes about affairs of the heart and his most recent break up was particularly traumatic.

Buried beneath an avalanche of confusion, anger and desolation, and in need of tranquillity and isolation to reflect and move forwards, the singer travelled to islands such as Santorini, Mallorca and Lambay to process his grief through songwriting.  

Although dealing with intense emotional upheaval, ‘Islands’ thankfully retains Ash’s effervescent sonic glow. Using the ABBA template of encasing darker lyrics within sparkling melodic tunes , Wheeler’s crafted some fine, albeit slow burning, numbers that epitomise the group’s typically uplifting ‘soundtrack to the summer’ vibe.

All That I Have Left’s stinging slights unfurl beneath chiming guitars, New Order synths and a beguilingly understated chorus, Don’t Need Your Love’s melancholic spaciousness is as soothing as a warm breeze and the Sigur Ros-styled Incoming Waves offers a picturesque piece of cinematic ambience that reflects this record’s compositional sophistication.

Along similar lines, Did Your Love Burn Out? begins like the Animals’ House Of The Rising Sun before detonating into kung fu kicking rock ‘n’ funk that sounds like the White Stripes street fighting with Stevie Wonder. Confessions In The Pool marries frisky dancefloor beats with twinkling keys and a surfs up Weezer crunch. It’s A Trap, meanwhile, is sagely arranged, its emotional power intensifying as the songs backdrop swells into a tumultuous storm.

The reason ‘Islands’ takes a while to click, aside from it being less of a guitar heavy powder keg than previous efforts, is that Wheeler’s sun-soaked melodies don’t possess their usual immediacy. Given time they still captivate, though, and the radiant Silver Suit, as well as the Buzzcocks-meets-Madness power pop of Is It True?, are both top drawer.

Yet the choruses of True Story and Somersault are representative of an album where the hooks, possibly influenced by the laid back lifestyles of the locations Wheeler visited, are more akin to the unhurried, seemingly effortless, and deceptively catchy refrains Tom Petty excelled at. Another potential issue, which may actually be this record’s greatest strength, is that apart from the expletive-laden punk magnificence of Buzzkill (with a pair of Undertones on backing vocals) there’s a dearth of individual standouts.  

Instead, ‘Islands’ delivers a consistent stream of very good tracks, all of which gel into the kind of complete listening experience that could see the record’s reputation mature like the finest of wines. If anyone was wondering if Ash’s music could survive the aging process without losing its endearing Peter Pan-esque spark, there’s the answer.

Ash Upcoming Tour Dates are as follows:

Tue August 14 2018 - BEDFORD Bedford Esquires
Tue October 16 2018 - SHEFFIELD Leadmill
Wed October 17 2018 - GLASGOW O2 ABC
Fri October 19 2018 - BRISTOL SWX Bristol
Sat October 20 2018 - BIRMINGHAM O2 Institute
Sun October 21 2018 - NORWICH UEA The Waterfront
Tue October 23 2018 - MANCHESTER O2 Ritz
Wed October 24 2018 - LONDON O2 Forum Kentish Town

Click here to compare & buy Ash Tickets at Stereoboard.com.





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