Review: Ashtray Navigations – To Make A Fool Ask, And You Are The First

a3783585770_16We join Ashtray Navigations at the halfway point in the journey out of their own heads. The image of Leeds, England is melting away. Streetlamps droop and pour into the flow of tarmac; buildings bleed outward into an earnest overcast sky, as the image gradually transforms into the vibrant lights of an interstellar elsewhere; urban environment curdles into the shimmer of transcendence, the fantasy streaked with the shades of city-living and vice versa. Somewhere between the ego-abandonment of psychedelia and the scuzzy, lo-fi confessions of personal circumstance, To Make A Fool Ask, And You Are The First materialises: a symbiotic swirl of grey and halogen, with the unmistakable tones of cheap keyboards and practice amps reworked into the implements of astral lift-off.

The first track is a perfect introduction to this escapist limbo state: drum machine, jangling chords and guitar solos all spin like debris in an unplugged sink, too dizzy to establish a mutual melodic orientation between them. What starts as a bedroom jam soon feels nauseatingly anti-gravitational, with drums and guitars abandoning their tethers to orbit eachother freely in space. Even as the music begins to spread across my mind like a pool of paint, I’m never fully liberated from thoughts of keyboard chassis and bundles of instrument cabling – Astral Navigations always retains traces of its source, and as part of me drifts upward toward the calling of endless lead guitars, another part is dragged back toward the music’s origins within well-worn electrical equipment.

In subsequent tracks, the hallucinations start to intensify: “A Crimson Coin” is a paradisiacal pool adorned with insects and amphibious life, eclipsing the ever-fading spectre of urban environment with chattering synthesisers and foams of white noise; “Bellow Organs Spine” flickers and shimmers like a magical windmill cutting up crepuscular rays, concealing earthly images behind blinding sunlight; “Spray Two” sends an uncertain piano improvisation hurtling through wormholes of electronic drone, pulling the instrument ever-further from the landscape that abets trivial mortal impulses. Finally, the record divorces itself from the labour of its creation. The album’s closing moments play out like a liberation from self, pressing further into a synthesiser pulsation that sheds all notions of human instigation. All that’s left is the abstract: the immaterial throb of transcendence achieved, devoid of all notions of life, electricity and economy.