I hate to have to invoke a tired cliche, but here goes: Looks can be deceiving.
Did that hurt too much? Hope not. Anyway, my point is this: gazing on the album insert, with its soft script, green pasture languidly stretching, cherubic little girl shyly opening a wooden box, a naive listener might think they’re in for something dulcet, demure, dainty even. Even most of the song titles, “Pout,” “6 Miles to Learn,” “Charmed,” seem to signal something softer. And well, you’d have to be one sick puppy to think you’re about to descend into a screaming hellish mire, where somebody sure sounds like they’re in a hell of a lot of pain.
Welcome Relative Ash, the newest edition to the “rocker” family. I won’t go so far as to mention their genre-mates, but you know the soundbloated guitar, power chords abundant, vocals somewhere between rap, metal, and agony. It’s animal, mineral, minor Megalife, and mucho gusto. And though the basic rubric under which Relative Ash fit is pretty standard, what these guys do differently is sing songs that actually are chock full of genuine ache, not just machismo and pissed-off-ness.
The music and lyrical juxtapositoin is like borderline personality — one second Mark Harrington’s moaning that makes you empathetic, the next his distressed screaming just makes you want to run away. Instead of too much on babes, boobs, and bawitdaba, they instead that sort of late night, private, journal poetry. Songs search for comfort: “Sensation overwhelms / Explain how they just don’t love them / Let’s cure the blind and kick our dreams” (“Pout”) while they also struggle with confused, anxious, and often fucked up images and urges.
While Relative Ash hasn’t converted me to the new rock religion, they incite empathy for those tortured guys you knew in high school, who sat alone in the corner because his pencil drawings on desks in homeroom freaked everybody out. That guy in my high school class ended up killing a few people in Washington, D.C. I’m glad these guys found let their aggression out with music — and what they create, though disturbing (like those drawings), is actually sort of beautiful.