Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

The Ashes send off the ironic era with ragtime and hoedown

June 5, 2012

I will always remember that September 11th happened on a Tuesday because of an odd, unfortunate coincidence: Ben Folds’ poignant depiction of ’90s life Rockin’ the Suburbs was released on the same day that the ’90s truly ended. (For example, the Y2K scare seems quaint compared to the actual disasters we’ve had to put up with in the post-9/11 years.) Kicking off Folds’ masterpiece is “Annie Waits,” which is effectively about the fear of “if we’re both still lonely when we’re old.” This sort of thinking was relatively paranoiac in the successful ’90s, Radiohead excepted, and yet it’s the first thing that Folds says about his vision of suburban life: It’s lonely and scary.

Flash forward 11 years and The Ashes deliver “Talk Like They Talk on TV,” which is also about the suburbs and “if we’re both still single when we’re getting close to 40.” But instead of earnest paranoia, this one’s coated in irony and sarcasm. Just as Suburbs was a referendum on an earnest decade closing, The Ashes Sing! is a jab at an ironic era ending.

The irony that is being parodied and skewered (or, if this reviewer is getting it completely wrong, simply presented) does not extend only to the lyrics. The music itself is an exaggeration of the folk tendencies of indie in the 2000s, as Shane Vidaurri and co. mine truly old-time sounds like ragtime, hoedown country, rockabilly and country/gospel. “Her Blue Eyes” includes washboard, stand-up bass, fiddle and barbershop harmonies; “Leaving Port” goes way back and includes what sounds like a harpsichord as a featured instrument. “Shane’s Blues” does its very best to appropriate the rhythms and melodies of New Orleans Jazz. Some will find the high vocals to be a confusing addition to the sound, but it just serves to point out the quirkiness of a folk uptick in the 21st century.

This is an eclectic stew, to be sure, but it’s a fun one: it’s impossible to tell what will be around the corner. With 15 songs spread over 47 minutes, there are plenty of twists and turns to love. If you’re into folk or sounds like it, The Ashes Sing! should be on your list.

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Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

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