Funny what happens when you spend too much time reading press about an artist and record and not enough time listening. The “that wasn’t supposed to happen like that” feeling is inevitable; a mild sense of betrayal needs to be overcome before you can even accept the product you hear. Such was my situation with Ashley Park (aka Vancouver native Terry Miles). I’d read a Billboard clip asserting that Ashley Park was “classically hewn pop” in the mold of the The Village Green Preservation Society and Abbey Road, as well as several other pieces extolling Miles’ British infatuation.
However, upon listening to The American Scene, I heard something much more contemporary as the record seemed more like a natural successor to Mercury Rev’s Deserter’s Songs (meaning that you, the reader, should probably ignore this review as well unless you wish to face the same difficulty). While I now hear some of the Davies influences other critics have noted, the album still feels distinctly North American. At times it is almost Guided By Voices-ish but much more finished, touched by Neil Young (indeed, his “Tell Me Why” is a featured cover) and Rev. (You’ll have a difficult time convincing me that Miles’ “Rocket on a Highway” has no relation to Mercury Rev’s “Goddess on a Hiway”.) This falls well within the genre of folky, yet poppy Americana to which Mojave 3’s Neil Halstead now aspires.
“The Old Masquerade” is essentially an amalgamation of the Deserter’s Songs; it sounds so much like Mercury Rev that I can’t quite decide which track it most closely resembles. From the organs to Miles’ everyman vocals, I can’t accept that this song has an ounce of originality, but it remains frustratingly likeable in its resemblance to its Upstate New York contemporaries. “The Last Day in the Life of Grand” moves toward the sounds of Mojave 3 to which I alluded — windy and fleeting folk — but Miles’ voice remains so related to that of Rev’s Jonathan Donahue that it is hard to separate my feelings for the track from the ghost of Deserter’s.
Thankfully the organs and hushed voices, complete with Kelly Haigh’s backing vocal, on “Around the World” sound so much like Yo La Tengo on And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out that I momentarily lose the Mercury Rev comparisons. And at this point you should start to get the picture: an album that is hazy, blurry, non-objectionable, really quite beautiful on some level, but also so devoid of originality that it can be fully grating. For example, I like “Around the World” but I absolutely adore Yo La Tengo’s “Night Falls on Hoboken” — and that’s a problem.
If that sort of revisitation sounds appealing, by all means rush out and buy The American Scene (perhaps the lovely Neil Young cover alone could be worth it for some), but as for me, I need a little more. Today, beautiful-but-highly-derivative just won’t cut it for me. I’m off to listen to Deserter’s Songs again; Ashley Park makes me realize how much I’ve missed that record.