Although she was not a founding member, every teenage boy who was an Ash fan in the late nineties is still mourning the departure of Charlotte Hatherley (rhythm guitar, piano, backing vocals) when she left the band in 2006. First crushes last a long time. After the remaining and founding members of Ash released Twilight of the Innocents a year later, Ash vowed never to release a full-length LP again. Ash broke this vow in 2015 to release Kablammo! The Northern Ireland three-piece from Downpatrick have broken this vow again and now return with twelve track LP, Islands, which is released via their original musical home, Infectious Music.
Islands opens with True Story, an opener that cuts to the chase, by passing by any delayed build up requiring a crescendo to climax. True Story is a coming of age song, that Ash has matured and are making music that reflects their age (to find out Tim’s age there is an Ash album that will provide a vital clue). Ash appears to reflect on a world where you can’t take people to be completely genuine. The traditional Ash style guitars riffs dominate this track, but it is impossible to dismiss to emotional chords struck with True Story.
The latest single Annabel follows. An instant shot of energy that is best described as a mix of Ash’s own A Life Less Ordinary and Garbage’s Why Do You Love Me? Albeit a retreat into the comfort of Ash’s earlier sound, but the ecstasy and adrenaline-fuelled elation produced will more than satisfy Ash fans old and new. Buzzkill, the first song Ash debuted from Islands, follows. Like Annabel, early influences are unmissable, but it does not have the effect in returning to listeners to the halcyon days in the late nineties and early noughties.
The majority of the rest of Islands whilst retaining the heavy signature Ash sound does make brave and bolder adventures into new and different musical territory Ash fans will not be used to. For example, Confessions In The Pool has a background of synth keys not too dissimilar to the sample Simply Red used in Sunrise (Hall & Oates – I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do), amidst a mainstream disco beat. All That I Have Left takes you back to the eighties with piano keys reminiscent of Eric Carmen’s Hungry Eyes from Dirty Dancing; except Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey dancing will be replaced with indie moshers getting down and dirty to this fix mixed with Ash’s indie guitar riffs. Likewise, Somersault has a catchy eighties/ Beach Boys hand clappy feel-good vibe. Is It True has similarities to Hot Hot Heat’s, No, Not Now and Abracadabra by the Steve Miller Band.
The strongest songs include Did Your Love Burn Out? A ballad with an Arctic Monkeys vibe, but Ash have made their own. Did Your Love Burn Out? should definitely be included in the live set list of their upcoming tour. The best is saved for last with Incoming Waves. The mellow piano keys at the beginning and the finale are soothing. The experience is like a warm down from an intense indie rock work out. Contemplative, reflective making good use of acoustic guitars, great use of strings, that builds into heavier guitars and pounding ballad drums; the result is a masterpiece, making the listener feels they have experienced something positive and different on Islands.
In many respects, Ash is still burning the same way they did when they first formed in 1992 as teenagers. Some of their attempts of escaping their early signature adolescent sound, although they don’t fail, they don’t exonerate Ash from banality either; nonetheless when Ash listen to post noughties sounds and allow themselves to be influenced by them and evolve their sound; Ash show themselves as true pioneers and inventors with a sound as relevant as the one they produced back in the 1990’s.