I was going to wait on this, but I am just bursting at the seams with excitement and had to move it up in the queue. You know there are two things I love in this world: expanding the Pound for Pound network by introducing new labels and Sean Conrad's music. You can imagine my joy when these two loves come together in a single release. So, I am honored to introduce a new label to the Pound for Pound world, Heavy Mess, and its most recent release, Ashan's Death Is New Life.
Based in Oakland, California, the label is a reminder of just how small the world is. Heavy Mess is the brainchild of braeyden jae, who records as softest, who we have discussed here before; braeyden was also the founder of the Inner Islands label, which we obsess about every few months here. Quietly, stealthily, thankfully, braeyden has returned to the role of curator, starting up a tape label that is now 8 releases deep. I love everything about the 3 adjectives that the label uses to describes itself: "disgruntled. hopeful. complicit." It might be the most concise way to describe the utopian impulse, with its sense of dissatisfaction with the status and willingness born of optimism to come together with others to experiment. Probably closer to what braeyden's meaning, the adjectives also offer the first clue that this project is shaping up to be something different than what one might have in mind when you hear names like softest, Sean Conrad, Inner Labels. This new batch of records—Death Is New Life, Gossimer's Close the Circle, Lay the Stones and Heejin Jang's Binary Breath—have New New Age moments of bliss and meditation, but those are mixed in with dark drones, weird field recordings and psychedelic folk.
For long-time readers, you will remember that I first came to Sean Conrad's music through his Ashan project; works like To Return To and Ancient Forever were incredibly influential, shaping our desire for a music that activates quiet places. I actually had thought that this alias might have been jettisoned, as it had been nearly 2 years since the last release, Earth Magic Life Celebration, so you can imagine my surprise and excitement when I learned of this new LP. With an initial, cursory glance, looking at the album title and song names like "Warm Decay," hearing a feedback-only track, I wondered if Ashan had become a drone metal band during the hiatus. There is something to this initial reading, as a darker element does run through the 9 tracks, a heaviness that fits perfectly with the political climate these days. "Trance Formation," the album's second song, might be a perfect reflection of this new edge and of potential new musical directions it opens up. The heart of the song is the big, hefty drums that recalled the unforgettable beat of Faust's "It's A Rainy Day (Sunshine Girl)"; seriously, this is a monster, a mix of hypnotic tribal with the clang of industrial. Mama. That bottom end is augmented by distorted guitar chords, waves of curling feedback, vocal wails and synth notes that all get built up into a frenzied jubilee that I imagine playing right before the riot breaks out.
While my initial thoughts speculated that this was a new Ashan, with repeated listens and thought, I feel like this fits perfectly within the continuum of the project. Ashan has always struck me as a exploration of the natural, of our place within our landscapes, as the label puts it, where "the physical meets the spiritual and how the two influence and dialogue each other." Death Is New Life puts me in mind of snags or wildlife trees, which are essentially dead trees that become spaces for new life; this 2004 Mother Earth News article looks at the teeming life that finds shelter, storage and much more in these dying entities. I have always felt that Ashan's music evokes forests and it seems a fitting reference again. At its finest moments, which are numerous, there are these almost heartbreaking moments of beauty and energy that emerge out of darkness and decay. The album's closing track, "Flickering," captures this feeling of hope and life that can emerge out of desolation; it begins with a didgeridoo-like drone and melancholy synth pads. Out of this stark soundscape come these tentative signs of life, in the form of twinkling chimes;
Obviously, I think that this is an essential new release and gets my highest recommendation, so I suggest you buy a copy for yourself ASAP. Head to the Heavy Mess Bandcamp store, where you can buy Death Is New Life as either a beautiful, limited edition cassette for $7 or as a digital album in the format of your choice for $5. braeyden has been kind enough to let me share these tracks, so I ask that you return the kindness and purchase the album in its entirety. More importantly, there can never be enough labels exploring the sonic edges and buying this music is the only way to assure ourselves that we will get more of it. I highly recommend checking out the Heavy Mess main page for more info on the label and their soundcloud for more music samples. For the social media kids, link up with braeyden and the label on Twitter and Instagram. Oh, and of course, you can find out more info on what Sean is up to at both his personal site and the Inner Islands home. Don't forget to check out his amazing mix as Mist Connections that kicked off our Pound for Pound Mix Series.
That's all for now, we'll be back shortly with more new stuff from softest, Heavy Mess, Epoch Tapes, Constellation Tatsu, The Orb and much more. Have a great weekend my friends!