Anna Ash “Sleeper”
Beautifully articulate lyrics to atmospheric vocals.
Trying to categorise this absorbing collection of songs that is Anna Ash’s fourth full album proved a waste of time. Singer/songwriter is true but falls far short in describing lyrics that display such acute emotional intelligence. What immediately resonates is the sparkling purity of her voice. While leaning towards the sad and nostalgic, Ash tells rueful stories that hark back to her Michigan childhood as she stretches her stunning vocal range. ‘Sleeper’ is anything but soporific, instead Ash’s falsetto sharpens the senses. As with musical categories identifying comparators is not easy either. A blend of Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush perhaps? An album of the pandemic, Ash had recorded half in the solitude of the Catskill Mountains by the end of 2020 then completed the remainder a few months later in the more familiar surroundings of a studio in LA. Whether intentional, she imparts a sense of urgency born of such uncertain times.
Opener ‘Favorite Part’ is set against a brooding psychedelia landscape of guitars, keys and strings. Through this atmospheric swirl Ash lilts the melancholic lines, “If you put your will up against my heart/ I’ll let you win that’s my favorite part/ That’s my favorite part”. The overall effect is to welcome the listener into Ash’s world. In far starker style ‘Popularity’strips away years of supposed good times taken for granted to reveal the hollow life they represented. The pace slows further for the title track. The instrumental sparseness offers vast space that Ash fills with a voice that like a swift soars and dives in almost vertical lines. That gentle vibe against which Ash muses vocally characterises much of the album. On first impressions there is a similarity among the songs but that is a lazy interpretation. Each song is very different, you just have to listen carefully. Hence the absorption. ‘Sgt. Pepper’sounds peaceful but is anything but, it being a song about a child’s trauma in some near misses caused by (a parent’s?) dangerous driving. Ash paints her pictures with forensic detail. The haunting, other-worldly ‘Fire Season’ is almost a whisper, “A part of my home/ It’s the smell of my middle school boyfriend’s cologne” gives vivid immediacy to a memory from long ago. Her ethereal vocals sound like a ghost from those days is speaking to her.
‘I Was Just Your Evening’ brings up more painful childhood recollections against what could almost pass as a happy tempo. An unlikely blend, it works the melody sounding like the patina often painted on what is too upsetting to face. Yet Ash is not afraid to confront the truth no matter how brutal. As the title suggests, ‘Dress Rehearsal’ is what life isn’t. With such a beautiful vocal in less than two minutes Ash has a simple message, “This ain’t no dress rehearsal.” Along similar lines ’What The Light Can Do’ shines a strong beam into a miserable life “Just give me a plain wall to watch the light fall/ And let myself be taken/ By surprise at what the light can do now”. The gentle piano and tremulous voice hint at what might have been. At times ‘Sleeper’ feels relentlessly gloomy but through her lucid writing and glorious voice Ash charms the listener.