Music

Ashton Allen: Dewdrops

David Bernard

Pleasant, lazy pop music with not enough specifics and too many tried and trues. Beware, or Ashton Allen will steal your girlfriend.


Ashton Allen

Dewdrops

Label: Livewire
US Release Date: 2005-09-27
UK Release Date: Available as import
Amazon affiliate
Amazon
iTunes

Ashton Allen is trying to be grouped with the masters of sweetly subdued pop music. There's been an ad on this publication for weeks declaring Allen's similarity to Elliott Smith and Nick Drake. If we learn nothing else from Dewdrops, we can understand that it takes more than a certain recording technique and timid vocals to be compared to Elliott Smith.

One huge difference is that Allen sounds happy most of the time. Even when his voice is depressed, his words are happy: "Miracles they happen every day / I think it's time for me / To put this doubt upon a shelf / And keep it there forever."" Remember when Elliott Smith wrote a similar line on XO? Me neither. It's because he didn't. However, the sound of some of these songs is impeccably Smith's. The title track, with its finger-plucked guitar and double tracked vocals, sounds like a Smith outtake. It also features Allen's most adventurous melody and chord use. Only backed by a tapping shoe and gorgeous harmonies, this is Allen achieving the lofty heights of the masters referenced in advertisements. Also, the guitar tone on "Counting the Cost" is straight from Figure 8. More often than not, though, Allen reverts to traditional chord progressions that conjure up pop radio more than college radio. This is, I'm sure, in part due to producer Colin Cobb, whose most famous clients include the acronym all-stars TLC and LFO.

If Allen chooses to play it safe with his instrumentation, he must be an impressive lyricist to make an impact on his listeners. Unfortunately he is not: "I never will forget that day / I was in a cabin far away / I couldn't imagine where you were at." Where you were at? C'mon, Ashton. This isn't middle school. Readers should be lucky that I'm sparing them the point at which Allen calls himself "a selfish fellow". These lyrical lapses could be excusable if the music weren't so timid, but words like fellow are so unusual in everyday speech that they're difficult to overlook.

Some bright spots do exist on the album. "Drive" is an excellent piano tune with a labyrinthine melody akin to Smith's "Everything Means Nothing to Me", but it ends after only a minute. "Starting Over" captures a lazy vibe and features some excellent backing mandolin. Occurring more often than these departures, we get songs like "Every Hour of the Day", which sounds like a John Mayer intro. There's so little passion evident in the music that many songs sound like a blurry representation of better songs written by more consistent artists.

Dewdrops is consistently a solo affair, with Allen playing most instruments. Songs not lyrically sappy enough are given a treatment of strings by Tim Lauer. A t the hands of Lauer's arrangement, "Something to Say" goes from sounding like a lesser song from the Either/Or sessions to being a string-laden snooze-fest. The opening track begins with an ominous tone and vocals similar to Lou Barlow's. Instead of strings on this song, we get horns, when we hear how Allen's gray skies are turning blue: "You turned my darkness into day". It's made for radio in the same way that Jason Mraz is made for radio. By generalizing so vaguely about the excellent girl referenced in these songs, Allen shuns the reality of love while allowing every 20-something enamored by his virile man-stubble to dream that she is the one whom he's singing about.

Ashton Allen writes superb background music, but it's clear that Allen is trying to make it much more than that. At one point, Allen sings, "If you leave, my heart is in your hands." I wish that Allen would take his heart from off his sleeve (or, I guess, from out of his vague girlfriend's hands) and shove it back into his chest cavity where it belongs. It'd make for more compelling songs.

5
Music


Books


Film


Recent
Music

12 Essential Performances from New Orleans' Piano "Professors"

New Orleans music is renowned for its piano players. Here's a dozen jams from great Crescent City keyboardists, past and present, and a little something extra.

Music

Jess Williamson Reimagines the Occult As Source Power on 'Sorceress'

Folk singer-songwriter, Jess Williamson wants listeners to know magic is not found in tarot cards or mass-produced smudge sticks. Rather, transformative power is deeply personal, thereby locating Sorceress as an indelible conveyor of strength and wisdom.

By the Book

Flight and Return: Kendra Atleework's Memoir, 'Miracle Country'

Although inconsistent as a memoir, Miracle Country is a breathtaking environmental history. Atleework is a shrewd observer and her writing is a gratifying contribution to the desert-literature genre.

Music

Mark Olson and Ingunn Ringvold Celebrate New Album With Performance Video (premiere)

Mark Olson (The Jayhawks) and Ingunn Ringvold share a 20-minute performance video that highlights their new album, Magdalen Accepts the Invitation. "This was an opportunity to perform the new songs and pretend in a way that we were still going on tour because we had been so looking forward to that."

Music

David Grubbs and Taku Unami Collaborate on the Downright Riveting 'Comet Meta'

Comet Meta is a brilliant record full of compositions and moments worthy of their own accord, but what's really enticing is that it's not only by David Grubbs but of him. It's perhaps the most emotive, dream-like, and accomplished piece of Grubbsian experimental post-rock.

Music

On Their 2003 Self-Titled Album, Buzzcocks Donned a Harder Sound and Wore it With Style and Taste

Buzzcocks, the band's fourth album since their return to touring in 1989, changed their sound but retained what made them great in the first place

Reading Pandemics

Chaucer's Plague Tales

In 18 months, the "Great Pestilence" of 1348-49 killed half of England's population, and by 1351 half the population of the world. Chaucer's plague tales reveal the conservative edges of an astonishingly innovative medieval poet.

Music

Country's Jaime Wyatt Gets in Touch With Herself on 'Neon Cross'

Neon Cross is country artist Jaime Wyatt's way of getting in touch with all the emotions she's been going through. But more specifically, it's about accepting both the past and the present and moving on with pride.

Music

Counterbalance 17: Public Enemy - 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'

Hip-hop makes its debut on the Big List with Public Enemy’s meaty, beaty manifesto, and all the jealous punks can’t stop the dunk. Counterbalance’s Klinger and Mendelsohn give it a listen.

Music

Sondre Lerche and the Art of Radical Sincerity

"It feels strange to say it", says Norwegian pop artist Sondre Lerche about his ninth studio album, "but this is the perfect time for Patience. I wanted this to be something meaningful in the middle of all that's going on."

Books

How the Template for Modern Combat Journalism Developed

The superbly researched Journalism and the Russo-Japanese War tells readers how Japan pioneered modern techniques of propaganda and censorship in the Russo-Japanese War.

Film

From Horrifying Comedy to Darkly Funny Horror: Bob Clark Films

What if I told you that the director of one of the most heartwarming and beloved Christmas movies of all time is the same director as probably the most terrifying and disturbing yuletide horror films of all time?

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.