Ashtray Navigations - Four More Raga Moods (Ikuisuus CD)

I don't have the time nor the money to try and keep up with everything Phil Todd's Ashtray Navigations put to tape, but every now and then I like to pick up one of their more hotly-touted efforts to try and get a read on what going on over there in the United Kingdom. I'm happy to report that I'm just as clueless as I was when I started listening to their stuff, but the sonics sure are nice! "Four More Raga Moods" is I guess a follow up to "Four Raga Moods" which Phil Todd put out on his own Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers imprint some time ago. I haven't heard that release, so I don't know if this is an actual sequel or what. What I can tell you is that there are in fact four tracks (or "moods" if you prefer) and it's the fourth release on the seemingly-upstart Ikuisuus label, based in Finland. They've also got releases from My Cat is an Alien, Uton, Family Underground, Ming, Taurpis Tula and other likeminded heads, either now or in the near future.
The first track has a pretty ambitious name for a three-minute track in "History of Psychedelia", opening up with some various field recorded-sounding sounds and leading into a rather lovely acoustic guitar duel (raga?) between Navigators Ben Reynolds and Jarvis, with Todd himself adding a slew of delays and effects to the mix. It's a delirious ghostly bog theme and I only wish it could've lasted longer. The other three tracks make up for that though. "Hey Sunflower Motherfucker" is another real beauty of shimmering and soaring guitars, one which really tugs at the heart stringsi f you're in the right mood and defines epic moments in film history and such. The kind of glittery gloop Todd lays down (it's a solo joint according to the liners) is just all different kinds of inspiring - especially when shit starts getting out of control with a few minutes to go in the 10-minute ditty, U.F.O. blips coming through the haze and some obscenely damaged percussion rips in the background. I fully approve. The amazingly-titled "Pete Nolan Effect" does in fact feature Pete Nolan (Magik Markers, GHQ, Spectre Folk, etc), as well as regular Navigations contributor Melanie Delaney, Ben Reynolds and Phil Todd. The first ten minutes of the half-hour number come from behind a wall of static, like someone's recorded the band playing as well as the sound of whatever else was going on outside at the same time. The result is the effect you get when you put a record on and fall asleep so you're listening to it half-consciously. It's also quite charming to hear the little plunked keyboards from Delaney drifting in and out alongside whatever Todd is milking out of the thousands of machines he uses (one of them is the Barbie Karaoke Machine apparently). The rest of the gorgeous, sprawled track sees even more baffling sound effects layered atop Nolan's heavily-effected guitar glaze...hence the title. The foursome hit on a great "sound of instruments melting" vibe that I could just spin for hours on end no doubt. The last one is a 20-minute piece called "And the Profit and the Loss", featuring Phil Todd on guitar, voice, and various electronics along with Chris Hladowski on magic boujouki and voice, Matt Cairns on digeridoo and voice and one Alex Neilson on drums, voice, and I can't read what else he plays. Phew. It's a slow-moving slab, secreting all sorts of crazed Eastern aromas with drones and chants and shamanistic bells and what have you. Kind of reminds me of the last track on the new Six Organs album crossed with one of those "Secret Museum of Mankind" compilations. Either way it's a brilliant, description-defying murky wallow, perfect for all late night extravagances in the confines of your bedroom.
Honestly, I wasn't expecting too much from this album. After all anybody who's read a Volcanic Tongue update can tell you that Phil Todd and his crew drop at least a few new releases every month. So how good can they be, right? There must be some kind of quality compromise, right? Perhaps, but if that's true than I wouldn't know it - the last Astray Navigations disc I reviewed was great ("A Monument to British Rock") and this one is just out-of-this-land incredible. Maybe I just got lucky with these two, but now I'm definitely going to have to keep stricter tabs on what's being released from the Ashtray folk (which stresses me out terribly). Also helping this CD's cause is the beautiful artwork and layout - the cardboard digipak-style case folds out to reveal four panels of mind-altering Crayola/cut-n-paste art that fits the music like a glove. Talk about eye candy as well as ear candy! Definitely one of my favorite records of the year thus far, you'd do well to give it a listen.


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