Strange Loops 2022
Nesting sonic mysteries in quest of personal happiness, Melbourne-based multi-instrumentalist trips to the end of the rainbow.
There’s nothing new for this composer in reflecting and refracting visual imagery through his music – he’s been involved in quite a few film soundtracks over the last couple of decades – yet “Gold” runs much deeper than that. Not only it has a special personal connection for Ashley Davies, the album providing a score to a series of paintings by his late Uncle Len, but also the artworks per se tell a story of Australian prospector Harold Lasseter’s search for the lost gold reef, so what the record offers is a narrative inside a narrative relayed in aural terms. It shouldn’t feel as complicated, of course, the concept serving as a vehicle for purveying an array of moods to keep the listener tuned in and tripping via outback to the core of a myth.
Primarily a drummer, Davies’ grip on groove is obvious from the beginning, once the throb of “Birth” takes a tasty twang for a ride towards bright future, as Bryony Marks’ clever string arrangements and wordless choral vocalese elevate the melody and allow it to flutter above the mere middle-of-the-road tropes, and doesn’t let up until the slow pulse of “Death” turns the flow into an ivories recital of a funereal sort, although there’s hopefulness in the platter’s finale too – spiced with sax and harmonica for good measure. No surprise, then, in Ashley and his ensemble beating around “Bush” where Craig Pilkington’s guitars go for a gaucho gallop and Monique Dimattina’s piano for a jovial bossa nova, yet the translucent strum and sunshine orchestra behind “Discovery” bring on a sense of wonder… and a bout of infectious rhythm-and-blues.
So even if the title track’s brass-plated veneer resonates with a spaghetti-western vibe, the sparse, percussive adventure of “Meeting” applies a different, jug-band-like, kind of cinematic approach to its quirky, menacingly vaudevillian, instrumental interplay, while the spacey synthesizer and soft singing of “Walking” hint at the unhurried delights which may hide in the desert before the initial pizzicato of “Lost” forms a sharp riff to propel exotic drama to emotional climax. Evocative and mesmeric, “Gold” is truly precious.