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Saturday, April 21, 2012

Ash: Trailer


1) Season; 2) Jack Names The Planets; 3) Intense Thing; 4) Uncle Pat; 5) Get Out; 6) Petrol; 7) Obscure Thing; 8*) Hulk Hogan Bubblebath; 9*) Different Today; 10*) Punk Boy.

Apparently, before recruiting drummer Rick McMurray and settling upon «Ash» as a suitable name for their future «best-rock'n'roll-band-in-the-world (to ever come from Ireland, since you are all sick of U2 by now anyway)», guitarist Tim Wheeler and bassist Mark Hamilton had done time in an Iron Maiden cover band, no less. Traces of this can be heard quite distinctly in their early sound (ʽHulk Hogan Bubblebathʼ starts out as sheer heavy metal, before melting down into zombie-flavored stoner rock), but it is most probable that they sucked at this venture — Wheeler is a good guitar player, but hardly on the level of Iron Maiden's axe gods, un­less technique and complexity were intentionally sacrificed once the new band rerouted its inte­rests into the direction of «alternative rock».

Trailer, their first EP/mini-LP, was built around ʽJack Names The Planetsʼ, the band's first single of any popular importance, and originally contained just seven songs (a few more were thrown on later for comprehensiveness' sake). None of them are very good, but one fine aspect of Ash alrea­dy on display is that their guitar-based sound is just a tad different from the generic «punk sloppi­ness meets pop toothlessness» manner of the alt-rock crowds of the mid-Nineties. Maybe it is the Iron Maiden tribute period that we have to thank, but, in any case, Wheeler's guitars usually have a lower grumble and a fuzzier crunch to them than the genre prescribes, and the lead parts feature a variety of tones, from high-pitched to wah-wah, and are consistently more melodic and less pre­dictable than one would expect.

That does come in handy when you realize that there is not a single melody to die for on Trailer. ʽJack Names The Planetsʼ is sort of likeable, with its fast tempos, Wheeler's friendly, non-screa­my vocals, and a brave attempt at marrying punk, hard rock, and Brit-pop, but the melodic flow is extremely even, and the hooks are non-existent — what, did they really think that simply re­peating the track title three times in a row is enough to make a respectable pop single? The se­cond attempt, ʽPetrolʼ, essentially following the same songwriting formula, managed to be a little better — at least this time, there is an attention-drawing climactic burst at the end of each verse as Wheeler's echoey scream kicks off an extra layer of distortion and sets the song's main melodic riff in action. Not that it's a lot, either — any professional songwriter would have chuckled at how little is really done to gain the listener's trust.

I hardly remember anything about the other songs, except for ʽUncle Patʼ, where the tempos are slowed down a wee bit, and the whole song, replete with Wheeler's friendly vocal overtones, ends up sounding somewhat like (very) late period Kinks (Think Visual or something like that). On the ultra-short ʽGet Outʼ, the band tries to go for a «polished metalcore» type of sound — very fast, aggressive, but also quite technical — but the melody is too brutal to be melodic, yet too re­strained to win points just for the hardcore smell of it all.

In the end, the most memorable tune on the album is... the band's cover of Helen Love's ʽPunk Boyʼ, quite a telling fact all by itself. (Even more telling is the recommendation to listen to the original instead — Helen Love have quite an odd, if very silly-sounding, approach to bubblegum-pop that sounded far more original in the mid-1990s than Ash's approach to Helen Love material). The good news is that the bubblegum pop influence may have helped these guys to lighten up — and become a little bit better in the future. With Iron Maiden and Helen Love playing dice in your subconscious, chances of your musical output amounting to pure, undiluted crap can be expected to decrease rather sharply. It does take time, though, and for the moment, Trailer gets a thumbs down, if only for not being diagnostic of the subsequent movie that it allegedly advertises.

Check "Trailer" (CD) on Amazon
Check "Trailer" (MP3) on Amazon

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