What kind of critical approach can one take toward an album like Ashes Grammar, one that refuses to respect structural boundaries, whose songs stretch across multiple tracks in a capricious, seemingly arbitrary manner? To consider songs as individualized structures is useless when it comes to A Sunny Day In Glasgow's latest effort. The Philadelphian group — once a duo, now swelled to a full six-member band — have made an album that eschews pop conventions without appearing self-consciously labored or over-intellectualized. (I'm looking at you, Dirty Projectors.)
Ashes Grammar’s aesthetic is less an academic exercise in post-pop deconstruction than a submission to ecstatic urges. A religious pale looms over the early sections of the album, with echoic reverberation and hymnal-like melodies evoking memories of dank, incense-stained cathedrals. The album eventually morphs into something of a meditation on dance music, but before they employ more contemporary musical referents, these songs impress as very nearly baroque, if not outright Gregorian.
Bridging from religious ecstasies to those of the discotheque, A Sunny Day In Glasgow have stumbled into rich, virgin soil. While this description might bring to mind some dreadful mid-90s new age album — and Ashes Grammar is, at times, ‘smooth’ in the pejorative sense — the group has made something complex, something thick with idea and incidence out of this marriage of incongruent styles and influences. The messy, deliberate formlessness of Ashes Grammar makes a near-immediate impact, one that is ingenious in its simplicity; the abstract structure makes the album nearly impossible to consume in anything less than its entirety. Together these tracks cohere beautifully, like illogical, subconscious details crystallized into a dream narrative.
Fans of the ongoing Balearic wave will find much to like, but to lump A Sunny Day In Glasgow in with this trend would be a condescending, imperfect point of comparison. Easily the blissful equal of jj or Memory Tapes, A Sunny Day In Glasgow are diffuse enough to avoid easy classification, and Ashes Grammar is easier to enjoy than it is to write about. That in itself is an enviable achievement.
1. Magna for Annie, Jose & Robin
2. Secrets at the Prom
3. Slaughter Killing Carnage (The Meaning of Words)
5. Curse Words
6. Close Chorus
9. Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs)
10. West Philly Vocoder
11. Evil, With Evil, Against Evil
12. The White Witch
13. Nitetime Rainbows
16. Blood White
17. Ashes Grammar
18. Ashes Maths
19. Miss My Friends
20. Starting At a Disadvantage
21. Life’s Great
22. Headphone Space