Abel Ashes - "Eat Plastic and Other Elements"
(Eat Plastic 2010)

From Aural Innovations #42 (May 2011)

Hailing from El Paso, Texas, Abel Ashes first started writing poerty as a teenager when his family moved to New Mexico. By the 1990's, he was performing in various small venues in San Diego, both solo, and as half of a duo with guitarist Eric Hensel. In 2001, Ashes released the ten track album "Eat Plastic", which has been remastered and resequenced for this 2010 anthology; it is joined here by a further 14 pieces recorded between 2000 and 2009. While Ashes himself provides vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion on most of the original album tracks, he also enlisted a certain amount of outside help, including Fayd (marimba, keyboards and lack of last name) and Marcos Fernandes (drums and percussion).

On the original "Eat Plastic" album, it is apparent that Ashes filled his head with the sounds of early Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, before graduating onto the likes of The Residents. The opening instrumental "Stop and Go Traffic" is an excellent FZ style marimba and percussion-led jazz-funk workout; the extended introduction to "The Revolution Is Making Me Dizzy" grooves along in similar vein. Meanwhile, "The CEO" features rapidly changing time signatures, before Ashes gives us his opening vocal shot, an impossibly deep and gravelly Beefheartean baritone, which includes one very long sustained bass note. The lyrics of this song ("I am the CEO / and I'm gonna whip your ass"), "Food In My Gut" ("Sometimes I wish that I was dead / instead I crawl back in my head"), and "Commercials" ("Here's some commercials, here's something else / here's some commercials, you stupid ass"), contain post-modern satire for the working classes, the former featuring funky bass playing from Max Vazin, the latter some gloriously edgy guitar riffing. "Amtrak Out of Orange County" is a nightmare train journey, with noisy and atonal electronic soundscapes courtesy of Fayd. By comparison, "Goddess/Godless" is a gentle (if markedly twisted) guitar and piano ballad, with one reassuring and repeated verse: "I will have no fear / with the goddess lying next to me". The spoken word delivery and avant-garde backing track of "Lemming Sunset", the final track on the original album, calls to mind Sun Ra reciting cosmic utterances over the top of Rick Wright's "Sysyphus" - certainly not the kind of thing you would use to open a party!

The next section of the album features solo pieces recorded between 2000 and 2009 by Ashes, who by this time has completely dispensed with his own vocals. In light of tracks such as "The Planes Operation" and "Phantoms Of Lost Liberty" (complete with newsreader samples about terrorists, CIA headquarters and dire warnings of lost freedom), it is both intriguing and unnerving to read that, following the 9/11 attacks, Ashes temporarily quit music for activism (although he declines to elaborate what that might entail). Avant-garde keyboard and percussion noises return on "Swamp Cooler", "Vehicle of Choice", "Giant Metal Cockroaches" and "Caveman Diplomacy", before a semblance of musicality returns on "Steel Monster Hula Dance". "Long Arm of the Hydrocarbon Mafia" concludes the solo tracks in suitably minimalistic and chaotic fashion, with much of its nine minutes featuring what sounds like a hacksaw assaulting a set of untuned guitar strings.

The final four "Other Elements" tracks are live recordings by Abel Ashes and guitarist Eric Hensel from a Found Objects concert in San Diego on August 15th 2001. Of these improvisational pieces, "Singing Whales of the Totem" is the easiest on the ear, while "Zigzag Kamikaze" is the most brutal, although the latter has stiff competition from set-closer "Adios Rendejos".

Many of Abel Ashes' compositions bring to mind the sound of someone sitting (often alone) in their bedroom with a table full of diverse instruments and cheap recording equipment, making the kind of music they want to make, and caring less whether or not anyone else likes or even listens to it. With the exception of a few almost-jazz/rock tracks from the original album, it would take a brave soul indeed to explore this private musical journey. Nonetheless those with an ear for the extreme and experimental may find much to enjoy here.

For more info visit http://www.reverbnation.com/abelashes or http://www.myspace.com/abelashes

Reviewed by Pat Albertson

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