Photo: Kristin Cofer / Courtesy of Dais Records

The Debut Record of SRSQ Arrives with a Dark ’80s Nostalgia

SRSQ channels the essence of ethereal darkwave with post-punk variation and experimentation, fueled by her impressive vocal range to produce Unreality.

26 October 2018

SRSQ is the solo project of vocalist extraordinaire Kennedy Ashlyn, also known as the vocalist/keyboardist of ethereal post-punk/shoegaze act Them Are Us Too. The inception of Ashlyn’s solo project came due to an unfortunate event in the sudden, tragic death of her closest friend and Them Are Us Too collaborator Cash Askew in the Oakland Ghost Ship Fire in 2016. As a result there is a very sorrowful and melancholic sound that defines SRSQ, and through the project’s debut record Unreality, Ashlyn explores the capabilities of these themes and her emotive vocals to create this immersive sonic journey.

The voice of Ashlyn is the singular center of the record, and through the minimal instrumentation, she produces an unbelievable performance. Her delivery draws comparisons to the great singers of the early 4AD era, including the likes of Lisa Gerrard and Elizabeth Fraser. That is also apparent through certain neo-classical and operatic leanings that come forth in some songs. A brilliant example of that modus operandi is “Procession”, where Ashlyn explores the dynamic of her voice in great extent, from very subtle, pianissimo moments to imposing, bigger than life outbreaks.

Ashlyn’s vocals also compliment greatly the dark ambiance of the record, which mostly tilts towards a dreamy sentiment. “The Martyr” gives an early taste to that motif, with a very nice and light dream pop form coming to the front. Slight deviations from the more sentimental touch and into a more experimental form provide variations from the record’s strict mold and also work nicely with Ashlyn’s delivery. The dreaminess brings to mind much of the ’80s sound and again the 4AD scene, and there are also certain flirtations with a more straightforward post-punk spirit, as is the case with the chorus of “Cherish” and its upbeat delivery. The rhythmic investigations of “Mixed Tide” see SRSQ perform another deviation, bringing a different element to the fold. Even though the percussion arrives with a slight plastic sound, and it conjures an endearing characteristic alongside the ’80s retro sound.

Even though the music is constructed very well and it is effective in painting the background for Ashlyn’s vocal presence, the instrumentation becomes the Achilles’ heel of the work. Even as it maps to the ethereal darkwave scene, it feels a bit downgraded in terms of texture, although it does deliver some very nice and potent melodies. Still, where it really works is when Wenning exposes her more experimental side, either in the slight additions of noise or the subtle attempts towards a glitchy sound. For the majority of the record that mentality remains hidden, but they also deliver some of the most powerful moments of the record.

The synths on “Cherish” are an example of this approach, with the razor-sharp characteristic granting an abrupt quality to the track. With “No Reason” Ashlyn performs a deep descent into the dark, experimental abyss, dropping behind the ethereal dreamscapes for a more dissonant reality. The closing track also features an interesting injection of noise, resulting in a strange dissonance between the melodic aspect of Ashlyn’s vocals and the sharper synths.

Unreality is a record that derives its power from the past, and it is the love of Ashlyn for the ’80s ethereal scene that drives the record forward. While for the most part she stays on that path, with certain missteps in the instrumentation, she provides a mesmerizing trip through the vastness of her voice. But, where she is more intriguing is in the darker moments of Unreality, in the likes of “No Reason” and especially “Permission”, where she turns the dream world into a strange shamanic ritual that combines neo-operatic characteristics and upbeat percussion. That results in an overall interesting album, and it also reveals the further potential that lies beneath the surface.

RATING 7 / 10