Ashley Reaks – Track Marks

Posted: 3 July 2017 in Albums
Tags: , , , , , ,

23rd June 2017

Christopher Nosnibor

Ashley Reaks’ relentless release schedule continues apace with the arrival of Track Marks, his eleventh album. Because it’s an Ashley Reaks album, it’s characterised by off-kilter experimentations in dub and socio-political commentary. But whereas jazz provided the core influence on 2015’s Growth Spurts, it’s spectacularly spacious prog-rock wizardry that arrives fresh on Track Marks to bring the all-important new, unexpected and so-incongruous-it-shouldn’t-work-but-somehow-does feature of the material.

‘Stale Mate’ opens the album with a suitably eclectic mix of ingredients, with the blippy electronica of the opening bars immediately being submerged by one of the wandering basslines that define Reaks’ output regardless of what he’s doing. Somehow it moves from here to ultimately culminate in a knowingly gratuitous guitar solo.

‘I’ll Take My Pilgrimage’ is seemingly about as much a yearning to find faith as a criticism of religion per se, and melds a stormy, rolling drum to another phat bassline and some progtastic guitars and synths, while packing in some jazzy sax too. The jazz direction, which came to the fore on previous album, Growth Spurts, becomes increasingly dominant as Track Marks progresses. ‘Exposing Fiona’ gets pretty wild in its horn-parping intensity.

‘Stick Thin Worms’ pitches a stomping rhythm beneath some more abstract lyrical content, while poet and bluesman Paul Middleton (who hails from Reaks’ hometown of Harrogate) provides spoken word on ‘Tank From Grimsby’, which continues the extending thread of collaborative efforts which have become stablished as a feature of Reaks’ receny output. It’s actually a piece about some musicians, and marks a departure into mellow flamenco guitar.

If it all sounds like overload, it’s credit to Reaks that somehow, it all hangs together with a remarkable cohesion. It’s not immediate: one has to first surrender to the strangeness, the otherworldliness that Reaks creates. But there are some – many – undeniably great musical moments here. They’re not preoccupied with hooks or choruses, but there’s a certain atmosphere that envelops Track Marks – an album where the darker second meaning is (wisely) left unhinted at in the cover art. And once again, it’s Reaks’ refusal to pursue any obvious avenue which is the key to his success as an artist. Whether it’s a detriment to him in commercial terms, well, who knows? But that’s not what he’s about, and precisely why he deserves respect and attention.

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