Ashlar – Distant Scenes

A new album popped up on my radar while scrolling through an Instagram feed of people enjoying the Summer and vacations abroad. I don’t like hot weather and my bank account laughs at the idea of a holiday, so I turn my attentions to discovering new music and writing about from behind closed blinds with a desk fan on full pointed it my direction…

Ashlar is the duo of two well-established artists within the contemporary ambience scene, Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards. I had the privilege of sharing a stage in London with Wil Bolton at a recent Hibernate Recordings event; I have known Phil for his extensive contributions to ambient music in the form of the label Assembly Field. ‘Distant Scenes’ follows Ashlar’s debut release. ‘Saturday Drones’on Colin Herrick’s Time Released Sound back In 2012, and 2014’s ‘St. James’ Gardens’ on Johnathan Lee’s Hibernate Recordings in 2014. The duo of Bolton & Edwards have now delivered ‘Distant Scenes’ on Harry Towell’s Whitelabrecs; an album that demonstrates the skill and dedication to detail and musical nuance of the two artists combined.

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The album’s third track, ‘Fused’ provides disjunct guitar chords, sampled and replayed at unintended intervals. Warping noise, hiss, and the unobtrusive sound of muted keys create a world of sound that constantly evolves around the guitar-based construct. Further reading into the production of the album reveals the locations of field recordings included in the album were gathered across the world, bestowing sonic contrast and creating a sense of place only achievable within the auditory; an accidental metaphor that reflects Bolton & Edwards no longer living near to one another, and working together remotely from to separate places. Longer chordal passages can be heard in the following ‘Insects and Dust’, where the original guitar compositions remain mostly intact, giving a loose and direct sense of flow.

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Once at the halfway point of the album, keyed instruments begin to take prominence, with gently played movements that draw comparisons to the earlier ambient works decades ago, wherein rigid structure gives way to simply playing and enjoying. This comes across well to the listener, providing moments of respite. A darker sound-palette emerges from ‘Same Fate’, as environmental recordings focused on the lower frequencies open for reversed and heavily warbling guitar loops spread out across the stereo field; a contrast between the industrial and organic can be heard as the sounds of birdsong and passing chatter challenge the sounds of the mechanical.

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Closing with ‘Patterns and Memories’, the sombre tonality of the duo continues in place of the colour and playfulness of the earlier tracks. I find that I’m more drawn to these pieces, as it is during the sparser moments where the weight of Ashlar’s true attention to detail and sonic nuance is brought to the attention of the listener.

Ashlar – ‘Distant Scenes’ is available now on Whitelabrecs, as a limited edition vinyl effect CD with polaroid artwork in a run of 50 copies, or as a digital download.

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