[21 April 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
The Ash Lovelies, a Washington, D.C.-based outfit, has a novel approach to making music. The band took to performing jam sessions in a coffee shop, inviting anyone who could play an instrument to join in via Craiglist ads, MySpace searches or networking. That means that the Ash Lovelies is an amateur jam band, and boy does it show in the final product of this debut album Ode to Arlington. The CD cover is obviously Photoshopped, the insert looks like it was printed on a cheap laser jet printer, and the CD itself a CD-R. Unfortunately, the amateur nature of this project carries forth into the music as well, which sounds as though it were mixed by someone with a tin ear to balancing the levels properly between the instrumentation. At times, it has that definite “live in the studio” canned sound that marks—and mars—the work of non-professionals. Here and there on Ode to Arlington, you can also hear the band sometimes playing sloppily out of synch in a quest to improvise.
Once you get past the poor production and improv nature of the 14 songs here, they aren’t all that bad, as a kind of folksy-jazz-rock. However, they are all undone by the singing of band founder, Lou Black, who tries to reach for the smooth, silky depth of a Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Bob Dylan or Leonard Cohen, but comes off like Tim Quirk from Too Much Joy on helium, instead. This makes Ode to Arlington a cringe-fest that’s virtually unlistenable. The album is strictly amateur night, and, at 70 minutes in length, it just goes on too damn long. The group could have spent the money on half the songs, and churned out a better sounding, better looking product—provided that it was instrumental. The best thing that I can say about this CD—whoops! I mean CD-R—is that it makes for a great coaster. The Ash Lovelies should have just stuck to the coffee shop, losing the singer in the process. As it stands, what the Ash Lovelies offers is completely unprofessional and unnecessary, and an affront to anyone who loves compelling music.