Review: Ashlar – St James’ Gardens

Ashlar - St James' GardensThere are drones cast above the field recordings of “Winding Nature” are like pylon wires overseeing an autumnal suburbia; dipping and rising in trapezoidal chords, laced like a spider’s web over the declarative yelps of children playing, and the distant traffic noise that crossfades elegantly with the brittle trees hissing in the wind. The instruments feel the soundscape and the soundscape feels back, and while the “real world” sounds on the record undoubtedly breathe obliviously to the musicality would later be draped over the top, Ashlar conjures the illusion of mutual awareness – the sense that those electronic drops are chimes answering the wind, and the sense that the voice of the suburban park dips to a whisper when the emotion thickens, as if listening to St James’ Gardens’ peaks of glisten and coherence.

The album structure feels like a lop-sided palindrome. The coastal, 5-minute blank of “Monuments” – reverse guitars and seagulls casting shadows on a vacant beach – sits like a transitional void between odes to a vibrant life that wilts with merciless patience. “The Oratory” feels like a lone contemplation; birdsong recedes to let internalised thought brew in the foreground, while a mixture of patient open strums and crooked electronic beeps bring to mind derailed trains of thought, starting tentatively upon one strand of mellow introspection before forgetfully fading into daydream. I hear the faint memories of metronomic hospital life support and the rustles of an adjusted coat, nudging my meditation off balance like a dandelion in a breeze. I am like a troubled mind at rest, feeling the gentle sways of preoccupation in the space where an absolute stillness wishes to be.