Ashes is the debut album from Albert Af Ekenstam, a Swede who seems to have been in various bands prior to this including “post rock” instrumental band Tempel and who cites as influences Bon Iver and Mogwai. One can see the influence of both here, haunting soundscapes as heard on soundtracks such Les Revenants are evident on the two instrumental tracks while Iver’s early hushed rusticana breathes on (almost literally) several of the songs.
Perfect for “post bedsit land” listening, one can imagine disaffected loners wallowing in the existential angst they’ll find in Ekenstam’s songs. The album weeps with mentions of mortality, troubles and escape, the singer a lonely figure. On Walking he speaks of “walking to the other side,” a euphemism for death perhaps while Angel Liz is a valedictory, the titular heroine urged to rest in peace. He closes the album with The Avenue, a lonely (and affecting) liquid guitar tone backing his voice as he sings “I’m already here by you, let’s leave this avenue,” the listener tempted to imagine that he’s talking here to the deceased heroine he sang of earlier.
It’s all conjecture of course (and not helped by the close miked vocals which occasionally obscure some words) but the general air is one here of loss and regret with optimism in very short supply. As we said above, fodder for those who like their music to well up from the depths of despair. However, on a purely sonic level, it’s also a wonderful wallow, the production superb and intimate; a comparison could be made to Bill Callahan produced by Daniel Lanois. Despite the gravity of the situation there are some wonderful dynamics with soft ambient washes clashing with guitar flourishes and powerful driving rhythms marking the album as several steps up from maudlin navel gazing.
A fine dose of Swedish angst