It’s been a while since a rock album really caught my ear. The last time that happened was late last year with Catfish and the Bottlemen’s debut. With the infestation of today’s “indie this” and “indie that” music – which, granted, I do tend to like – it has become harder and harder to find solid, wholesome rock. I was sure the next rock band to enchant me would be another young, fast-rising act like CATB, so imagine my surprise when I fell for Ash, a veteran band who released what they vowed would be their “last” album eight years ago!
Sometimes you can teach an old dog new tricks, and Ash prove that on KABLAMMO!, the band’s seventh studio album, released in May. True to its namesake, KABLAMMO! is an explosive work. Ash waste no time bringing us up to speed on the past eight years, opting instead for a quick-and-easy introduction through music with “Cocoon,” the most captivating alternative rock song I’ve heard all year.
For full disclosure, I had never heard of Ash before KABLAMMO!, and I have little interest in looking up their previous material. “Cocoon” is all the proof I need that this band knows how to bring a storm: It’s got the same calculated ferocity that Led Zeppelin exhibited on “Communication Breakdown,” and a band comparison to Led Zeppelin is, in my book, the highest of compliments.
Four close apartment walls
I shudder and withdraw
Sealed in a second skin
No daylight filters in – cocoon…
The lowest that I have known
I’ve never felt so alone
Vague memories of the light
I dream of taking flight – cocoon…
I like “Cocoon’s” lyrical imagery because it’s subtle and humble, and it perfectly fits my visualization of a rock band going through performance withdrawal. The depth shines on the surface level, but dives inward as singer Tim Wheeler wails about inner turmoil. This is alt-rock excellence.
Listen: “Cocoon” – Ash
Ash follow that up with “Let’s Ride,” a riff-driven song whose belted, harmony-laden chorus brings me back to the mid-90s, when alternative rock ruled the radio stations and Oasis’ “Champagne Supernova” was bound to attract a singalong at parties.
That’s exactly what KABLAMMO! is: A record reminiscent of the 90s, with the finesse and polish of a band with significant experience, but with the fresh flare of a band in their twenties who just wants to have fun. Perhaps Green Day could learn a thing (or two) from Ash.
“Born in the wrong place, born without your grace, a past I can’t erase – I want you, I want you,” croons Wheeler on “Machinery,” a heartfelt song about a poorly-timed love. The band’s self-awareness and penchant for poetry is abundantly evident on this, and many other tracks:
Seemed that time was stuck on me
I was on the slide
Drinking in the lobby bar
A surge of electricity
A flicker of insides
Jarred by a magnetic force
Out into the night
The full moon’s coursing in my blood,
I’m hurtling downtown
The driver’s moving through the gears
The sparks are raining down
Been asleep for oh-so long
Forgot I was alive
Oblivious to the 21st century
Immune to the trappings of luxury
Unconscious of a dark machinery
I’m waking up
The words are simple, the concepts aren’t hard to grasp, and everything is fine-tuned to be the best it can be, without seeming full of itself. That’s the thing about KABLAMMO! – it’s honest and humble. Ash cool down quickly on “Free,” a beat-driven track that lets the instruments breathe and explore their respective aural spaces. Drummer Rick McMurray’s constant pumping fits perfectly into Mark Hamilton’s thumping bass guitar, leaving a space for Wheeler to get creative with his voice. The delicate flourishes on “Free” are a refreshing break from the guitar-heavy bonanza.
Of course, no respite lasts too long – lest we forget how loud they can get, Ash follows up with the banging “Go! Fight! Win!,” which really ought to be written in full capital letters. It’s raucous, an orgasmic display of alt-rock pounding best seen on New Politics’ self-titled debut album. This sort of rock – a rallying cry – would be rather obnoxious, if not for a guitar solo that saves the song. Nothing like a good instrumental break to bring everything back together!
The second half of the album is just as carefully planned out as the first half. “Hedonism” is as powerfully evocative as “Machinery,” yet it lacks the memorability of the latter. Alternatively, “Shutdown” finds a healthy punk-rock speed for Ash to pump out an infectiously catchy chorus. “Shut it down, thank you and goodnight,” isn’t exactly the most profound statement, but it’s ridiculously fun to sing.
Two general musical halves of Ash present themselves on this record: The go-getting hard rocker and the introspective crooner. Both parts were necessary to create a full album, but whereas U2 won everybody over with the slow and emotional “One,” Ash won’t be turning heads with songs like “Free” or “For Eternity” (which actually reminds me of Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing,” sans the memorability).
KABLAMMO! is at its best, and likewise Ash are at their best, when things are rocking. “Cocoon,” “Let’s Ride,” “Machinery,” and “Shutdown” are fantastically upbeat alternative rock songs that will be stuck in my head for weeks to come. It feels good to know that the days of bands making quality rock music like this aren’t over. Ash’s melodies are tasteful and their rock instinct is spot-on, so who cares if they’re not newcomers? KABLAMMO! is worthy of its name.
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