In the ’90s era of Britpop music, one of, if not, the youngest bands to have been adopted by the scene was Ash; and impressively among its contemporaries, Ash proved to be one of the most enduring and prolific. Formed in 1992, in Downpatrick, County Down, Northern Ireland, Ash is currently comprised by the original trio of Tim Wheeler (lead vocals, lead guitar, keyboards, programming), Mark Hamilton (bass, synthesizer), and Rick McMurray (drums, percussion, backing vocals). In their quarter-of-a-century career, they have released seven studio albums, from 1994’s Trailer to 2015’s Kablammo!, and a new one is forthcoming.
Slated for release on Friday, May 18, 2018, on Infectious/BMG Records, Ash’s latest, eighth full-length is titled Islands. Its sound is a further departure from the punkier quality of their early albums, but certainly in league with the poppier and more melodic Power Pop traits of their latter ones.
Islands opens with the nostalgic and breezy Britpop/Shoegaze swagger of “True Story,” which will fit well on a playlist that includes songs from not only the respective latest albums of Sloan (“The Lion’s Share”), The Breeders (“Archangel’s Thunderbird”), and Buffalo Tom (“All Be Gone”)—all of which display these bands returning to their trademark sound of old—but also Alternative/Indie classics like The Candyskins (“Feed It”), This Perfect Day (“Headache”), and Weezer (“No One Else”).
The same vibes flow into the ensuing upbeat yet pensive “Annabel.” Wheeler then steps onto the fuzz pedal a bit harder as he and the rest of Ash launch into “Buzzkill,” the album’s carrier single. A bit subdued, a tad New Wave, “Confessions in the Pool” plays next – a standout dancefloor-worthy track that sparkles with its undulating synth melody, choppy guitar rhythm, and pulsating bass-and-drum beats.
The following heartrending Alternative Rock ballads “All that I Have Left” and “Don’t Need Your Love” tone down the atmosphere for a bit, sending the listener to romantic mode. “Somersault” then returns the listener to a sunny disposition, prompting her to shake her head and wave her hands in the air one more time, back there in front of the stage or at the center of the dance floor.
The rockin’ stomper “Did Your Love Burn Out?” is another change of pace and mood – bluesy, psychedelic, angular, and definitely puts it under the Rock category—white stripes, red hot, and all! And then there is “Silver Suit” – another feel-good, catchy, and summery Weezer-reminiscent track. With “It’s a Trap,” Ash then infuse a little bit of ’60s Surf balladry into the album’s overall saccharine fuzziness. Nearing the end of the set, “Is It True?” slides and gallops with its subtly sinister-sounding spacey and staccato Rock tendencies.
Finally, Wheeler, Hamilton, and McMurray finish off their new powerhouse record appropriately with the slow buildup of the piano-led ballad “Incoming Waves,” in which Wheeler confesses: “All I got is time to think about the moment I went wrong / The chance to put it right / The chance to prove I could be strong.” Such a powerful outpouring of hopeful emotions to end a solid album.
Ash’s latest offering is arguably a cut above some of their earlier releases. Songs were well-crafted, arrangements were progressive, instrumentation was liberally textured, each song was immediately distinct, and lyrics were inspired—enough to make the listener swoon in love and feel the longing while playing the whole album on repeat mode. Thus, CrypticRock gives Islands 4 out of 5 stars.