Ash – Islands

With just two records released in the past 10 years Irish rockers, Ash, have returned with their latest studio album, Islands. A nostalgic 12 track record which will transport you directly back into the era of naughties rock and powerhouse ballads. Ash have been going since 1992, but here they are proving that they still have a lot to say, arming themselves with the full power and ferocity of the electric guitar.

Opening the record is ‘True Story’ and immediately we’re cast into the deep-end with simple but powerful chord work. Singer Tim Wheeler uses his gritty tones to throw us back to an era when bands such as Stereophonics were king. The classic rock’n’roll formula is more than prevalent, immediately grabbing your attention before flooding into a catchy hook-line surrounded by fuzzy guitar and pounding drum work.

From here, Ash continue to demonstrate a variety of sounds they’ve acquired over their lengthy career, ‘Confessions In the Pool’ provides a shift from power chords to a far funkier place surrounded by summer vibes. Once this track reaches it’s peak, the colour exuding from the sound is truly incredible. It’s captivating, clean and brings the perfect blend of bounciness and heavy rock that creates a vibe you can only imagine festival fields loving. Meanwhile others such as ‘Don’t Need Your Love’ emphasise a far slower pace and a sense of minimalism. Tim is able to carry the track through this downbeat lyrical narrative. It’s a step away from the rest of the record’s highly intense sound, which certainly makes this one stand out and really leaves a strong lasting impression through its dramatic shift of pace.

This being said, there are a few songs which fall somewhat flat in comparison, edging slightly more into cheesy territory, as opposed to the classic rock’n’roll feel they were aiming for. Although ‘Buzzkill’ contains additional backing from fellow Irish rockers, The Undertones’ Damien O’Neill and Mickey Bradley, but it lacks any real gritty substance. The use of far harsher fuzz from the guitars feels somewhat jarring compared to the cleaner tones on the rest of the record. However, as we step into Islands latter half, we find that Ash have more than found their feet as we return to Wheeler’s screeching solo work and are shown the true talents of this band.

‘It’s A Trap’ (Star Wars pun no doubt intended) makes for the pinnacle of this record. Bringing forth such a captivating listen from the slow beginnings of lonely solo notes and an acoustic before shifting into a fully fledged sombre soundscape which you could certainly see being part of a post-apocalyptic universe. The track’s blend of pacing and continuously shifting momentum really keeps it unpredictable, building excellently as we step into a truly other-worldly guitar solo section. This is around 45 seconds of pure bliss as each note is rung with such incredible power, instilling everything that the classic image of the Marshall stack was made for. The song’s powerful hold over the electric guitar sound hits with the punch of a freight train.

Islands may not reach the peaks of record of the year, but it’s an incredibly solid instalment for a band who have been rocking for almost 30 years and have continuously shown that they’re by no means washed up. I don’t think anyone will come away from this record feeling disappointed and it acts as a terrific listen for anyone looking to relive a time where rock’n’roll wasn’t just about who can play the fastest or loudest.

Ben Walker