Ashtray Navigations - A Monument to British Rock (Memoirs of an Aesthete CD-R)

Was it just me not paying attention or was Phil Todd aka Mr. Ashtray Navigations M.I.A. for 2005? I thought the project was shelved for the time being, yet he's seems to be all over the place in 2006, starting with this, a massive double-disc blow-out in celebration (?) of British Steel, baby. The lineup here consists of Todd, Alex Neilson and Melanie Delaney. This is the kind of loopy, shamanistic vibe brought on by the likes of the Vibracathedral Orchestra and Sunroof! at their airiest...two more British bands, must be something in the water. The first disc opens up with three consecutive short numbers which are all just fine for setting the tone (and by setting the tone I mean bandying you around the head like a sparring partner) for the monolithic "Alex and Ben Communitas" is a ritualistic syrup so heavy it sounds like it's threatening to bring down the reel-to-reel it may or may not have been recorded on. The rattling of bells and hallucinatory synth (?) and guitar (?) punctuate celestial droning that brings to mind Hermann Nitsch at his bloodiest. If you can make it through all 25 minutes without falling into a narcotic-induced coma you get to try your luck again as the 20-minute "The Slither Season" comes around the bend. A playful acoustic guitar leads into full-on/full-off jamming from the trio at various intervals with the fog of (suitably) poor production constantly looming over the group.
The second disc is organized a bit differently, with two lengthy tracks at the beginning and end of the album and four smaller ones sandwiched between the two. The first song is slower and more deliberate than what we heard on disc one but no less captivating, with a black swampdrone providing a foreboding undercurrent for Todd (or somebody's) acoustic guitar work. The piece gradually moves forth with mesmerizing effect until everything peters out and the mist dissipates. "Cassette Redemption" is the most intriguing of the shorter bits with what sounds like a flute running dizzying lines over a sitar drone. "Gnomeleft" and "A Volumn" both sound like Sunroof! at their most damaged. The last track is "How Can I Hand You a Diamond?" is similar in spirit to the first of this disc, in that it's sparse and eloquent. More synths and more guitars occupy the first half until Neilson comes storming alive in the majority of the remaining ten minutes to ease the tension with some parituclarly punchy drumming. The harmonium-esque drone that dwells beneath the song's surface for the track's duration builds to a deafening climax and then before you know it, it's all over. If Phil Todd really did spend the last year in hibernation, then it's a crime. If I really did spend the last year completely ignorant of the releases he may have put out, then it's a bigger crime. If someone doesn't pick this up after the intial pressing of 100 sells out and reissue it on a double CD for all to hear, then it's the crime of the century.


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