Learning to speak Ashes Grammar

Everything about A Sunny Day in Glasgow—from their too-long name to artsy song titles like “Panic Attacks Are What Make Me ‘Me’”—seems designed to be a little bit inaccessible. Though they’re often compared to fellow shoegaze-influenced, female-fronted bands like Asobi Seksu and Mahogany, their music tends to push the experimental boundaries further than either one, veering away from dream-pop and more into noise and abstraction. I liked their 2007 album Scribble Mural Comic Journal, but I found it hard to listen to from beginning to end: The songs were just too claustrophobic, packed full of dense noise and buried female vocals that hovered right on the edge of breaking free.

On their brand-new release Ashes Grammar—which comes out September 15 on Mis Ojos Discos—A Sunny Day in Glasgow open up some space in their sound, allowing daylight to break through. As the album begins, the gentle choral wash of “Secrets at the Prom,” showcases Robin and Lauren Daniels’ gorgeous harmonies. This in turn segues into the slow-building “Slaughter Killing Carnage,” which crashes into the joyous climax of “Failure”–only to dissolve unexpectedly into soft, hazy bliss-pop in the song’s second half. In just a few minutes of music, it feels like you’ve crossed an entire landscape.

There’s something unpredictable about the best moments of Ashes Grammar, something ethereal yet catchy, that demands repeat listening. On standout tracks like “Close Chorus,” “Shy,” and “Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs),” disparate elements—electro beats, handclaps, lovely vocal loops, shivery guitar chords—build off and contrast with one another in subtly unexpected ways.

Yes, last third of album loses a little of the momentum, and some of the more abstract moments–with the exception of the hypnotic “Canalfish”—start to blur together. But beginning to end, it’s still one of the most interesting albums I’ve heard this year, and one of the hardest to pin down. Over a week after my first listen, I’m still discovering something new.

Listen to “Failure,” courtesy of Stereogum.

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