Ashley Reaks is one of the many ace musicians I’ve encountered during my decade-long social networking odyssey. If anything, it proves what a small world it is that I should have somehow crossed virtual paths with the Harrogate-born former front man of Younger Younger 28s, now resident in London while myself chipping out some kind of subterranean career as a music journalist based in York alongside a particularly unspectacular career in admin to pay the bills.
As the biography on his website attests, Reaks makes no secret of his depressive tendencies, and to the majority, his warped dada-influenced artworks are likely to be perceived as just plain weird. But Reaks is a true artist, channelling those dark mindscapes into intense and challenging art in a range of media.
His latest album (his seventh), ‘Before Koresh’ (as far as I can determine, a reference to Branch Davidian cult leader and dangerous lunatic David Koresh) is housed in one of Reaks’ own disturbing collages, and features a guest vocal from Leonard Phillips, lead singer with punk legends The Dickies, as well as the improvised Eastern-tinged vocalizations of Norway’s Maria Jardardottir, collaborations with Hull wordsmith Joe Hakim and Huddersfield poet and postman Kevin Boniface. The blurb also promises ‘odd time signatures, prog-punk polyrhythms and at least two songs about psychopaths.’
I’m pleased to report that these are all very much present and correct. The title track kicks things off with a subterranean bassline worthy of Jah Wobble and the harmonious vocal melodies contrast with the dark lyrics that identify Koresh as a psychic rapist, psychopath and sadist, and is topped off perfectly with a Brian May on acid guitar break. Phillips provides vocals on ‘The Dustman’ the sing-song melody and Mary Poppins samples of which belie its dark undercurrents an imagery. ‘Inch Perfect’ makes no mention of John Virgo’s snooker commentary, and instead features a sampled vocal narrative over an incongruously shimmery, pulsating dance beat, while elsewhere the seven-minute ‘Hyper-Diseasy’ builds around a proggy vibe tinged with jazz guitar and coloured with ska brass breaks as it unfurls across a shuffling beat. The deadpan spoken-word narrative works unexpectedly well, although it’s ‘Mr Barton and the Squirrels’ which is one of the most affecting pieces on the album, the magnificently simple vignette nestling perfectly with a soft electro backing.
A cross-cultural sonic collage of sounds and soundbites, samples and strangeness, ‘Before Koresh’ presents a portrait of a postmodern dystopia... or, moreover, the world in which we live, as Reaks trawls through the detritus like an inverse magpie.
Ashley Reaks Online