Band Name: Rachel Merchand
Album Name: The Ashling
Best Element: Lush, full songwriting
Genre: Female Singer/Songwriter
Label Name: n/a
Band E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sometimes I feel bad for singer/songwriters who happen to be of the female variety. Since there aren’t a very large number of them who are simultaneously famous and respected by the indie community (I’m looking at you, Liz Phair), a lot of things fall under the umbrella of Fiona Apple-ites, Ani Difranco followers, and Alanis Morrissette idealogues. And since a lot of people aren’t hip to the female music community, they’re perfectly fine with those horrible labels.
I’m here to tell you that Rachel Merchand is not significantly like any of them. I’m also here to tell you that if you’re not already enjoying female songwriters, you probably won’t enjoy this very much.
That’s partially because The Ashling is an extremely personal record- each of the ten tracks holds a potent urgency that makes it feel like Merchand is sitting in your room playing for you. This isn’t a pop album by any means- while there are pop structures occasionally, this is not a hit-it-and-quit-it type of record. There’s no such concessions to the listener (except the ill-fitting “These Tears”)- this is a collection of deep, heartfelt songs that unfold their depth more and more with each subsequent listen. To heighten the effect, the album is perfectly paced- each song seems to flow logically into the next. The Wall this isn’t, but The Ashling does have a distinct musical thread running all the way through it, similar to a concept album.
This thread is easy to identify- it’s the impeccable songwriting of Ms. Merchand. This album is built off acoustic guitar, piano, forlorn strings, and the dusky alto vocals supplied by Rachel. Each of these instruments receives loving treatment in how they are employed- employed often, and always beautifully. A morose, somber cello sets the mood for “Humble”- “Cinderella” features a very (I have to say it) Ani Difranco-esque acoustic guitar- “Endless Day” has a stunning piano line as well as a piercing, aching vocal line.
While each individual instrument occasionally takes precedence, they more often work together, forming a lush, dark, full background to Rachel Merchand’s voice, as displayed brilliantly in the anthemic “You Cause Me to Break.” “You Cause Me to Break” starts off with a swift acoustic guitar line and the strong yet forlorn vocals you will come to love before introducing a groove-heavy drumbeat. In the chorus, the background vocals and strings come in, thickening the sound to a roar and creating quite an impressive chorus.
This is not an easy album to dissect, nor is it an easy album to pick favorite tracks off of. There is no clear-cut ‘best track’ here- it will be up to the listener to pick out which one (or few) of these stellar tracks is ‘the best.’ I’m partial to “Dreams”, but only because it has a nice indie-electronic beat under it, and I love electronics. The Ashling is a really, really dense album- full of tricks and twists and talent. Any fan of female voices in music will highly enjoy Rachel Merchand’s emotional, lush music. Any fan of lush, beautiful music should at least check out some mp3’s from this girl- I would be willing to bet that if you like Oasis, Joseph Arthur, Turin Brakes, or even Coldplay, you’d find something to like in Rachel Merchand.