by Phil Scarisbrick
Hope and hopelessness are the ice and fire at the heart of Ashley Shadow’s stunning second record
Finality is normally associated with something profound. A full stop on an event – or a series of events – leaving those involved in a completely different place to where they had been before: be it literally or figuratively. Such is the importance that we put on these changes, whether positive or negative, that they can define our entire existence. Only the End sees Ashley Shadow (pseudonym of Ashley Webber) return some five years after her self-titled debut. The title suggests a triviality to the events we put so much weight on, but what is imbued throughout the album is a sense of something that is the life force behind positive change – hope.
The record isn’t all sweetness and light. Far from it. What it does do, though, is balance the warring feelings of hope and hopelessness to create a nuanced record that is a captivating listen. Webber is a woman on a journey, and giving us a front row seat to her transformation. Grey evokes imagery of purgatorial melancholy, but the substance of the track is far more upbeat. Despite an initial fragility in her voice, by the time she sings, ‘Turning my life around / Far too much to think about right now / Just carry on the way we do / If I could you’re the reason to,’ there is a steely resilience to her delivery.
The way she uses her voice to instil each emotional tone to her words really makes you buy into the record. From You is a prime example as you feel like she is living, or has at least lived every syllable that she utters. Catlin is also packed with the same intensity – with an open wound vulnerability coursing through the collective memories of those left to pick up the pieces of a premature demise.
Even without hearing his voice, this is an album that you’d say is recommended for fans of Will Oldham, but his appearance as Bonnie “Prince” Billy on Don’t Slow Me Down only confirms this intuition. Each taking a verse, the pair converge during the chorus. Webber harmonising above Oldham before he jumps to high note by the line’s conclusion to switch the roles in a way that recalls Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova on their Oscar-winning track, Falling Slowly.
The half decade gap between albums has allowed Ashley Shadow to create a record that is a fully-formed, nuanced commentary on the complicated emotional rollercoaster humans experience throughout their lives. This isn’t a depressing album, but there is plenty of melancholy. This isn’t a joyous album, but there is plenty joy. Each despairing moment is levelled with a sense of hope elsewhere. And the glue holding it together is a voice that injects it all straight to your veins.
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