The first thing you’ll think of, or see, when listening to Gwyn Ashton’s solo record Solo Elektro, is the world through a grainy 8mm technicolour film. This record is very visual—think New York in the ’70s, bright colours and dirty streets; or New Orleans’ neon-drenched Bourbon Street. Hell, even the warm hue that sits in Adelaide’s Garden of Unearthly Delights each year would welcome this dirty-bluesy-stompin’ LP.
Psychedelic music has been inching its way back into the spotlight in the last few years, but what feels different in Gwyn’s songs is that exactly, the songs. Songwriting underpins every track on the record; while the lyrics push towards the existential and imaginative tendencies of the late ’60s and ’70s, the urgency mirrored by Gwyn’s foot-stomping drumming keeps the listener’s attention. And it’s his arrangement of music that makes this record a structured blues experience, rather than a lost-roaming progressive acid-drenched trip. The songs keep your attention, and his playing and singing act as the perfect masters of dynamics.
Which brings about the next point—the blues on this record is so prominent! The old tales of bluesmen walking the highways and paying their board with songs seems to live in the very blood of this record. With just a guitar, a slide, a kick drum, and his reverb-hugged voice, Gwyn Ashton takes you on a blues journey. His playing is exquisite. Not flashy, not overdone, nor are the songs simple, but perfectly executed. For the vision he was trying to capture, the notes seem to hang on long enough, but not long enough at the same time. The sound pulls you down into the trenches and keeps you wanting more, even after the last gritty string rings out.
And it’s the ringing out which gives this album its haunting tone. Both ‘Late Night’ and ‘Kind to Be Cruel’ reek of misty swamp music, a perfect platform for Gwyn’s hovering vocals to float through. ‘She Won’t Tell Me’ stomps along with a punching guitar melody, giving the lyrics an accented power to cut through to the listener. While ‘Dawn of Tomorrow’ begins as a meandering river, it quickly grows into an urgent set of rapids—the lyrics heed our attention and guitar licks save us from jagged rocks.
What I like about this album is its dirtiness. The reverb and echo effects blend all the music together into a living breathing guitar musical odyssey. The ‘Metaphysical Journey’ tracks that begin and end the listening experience inform and remind us that the circular nature of life is constantly ebbing and flowing. What lyrically seems illuminating at the beginning of the record is common sense by the end. “It don’t matter how clever you’ve become” begins and ends the record. We get a sense that at the start, no matter how good a student you’ve been, there’s always more to learn. By the end, it doesn’t matter what lesson you’ve learnt, you’re always the student and learning—which is a great reminder for all musicians. No matter how many notches are in his belt, nor how much music he has composed, Gwyn Ashton is still endeavouring to push himself and his music. And with Solo Elektro, he wants you to come too.
Solo Elektro is out now.
Get Solo Elektro here.
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