Progression: The Quarterly Journal Of Progressive Music, CD review by John Patrick, Progression 60: Autumn Issue 2010, page 82 - Abel Ashes - Eat Plastic and Other Elements - 2010 (CD, 75:34) - Independent release (ect001)
- Avant-garde/Rock - Rating 13.5 (out of a maximum possible rating of 16) -
“Combine the controlled guitar tantrums of Sonny Sharrock, the booby hatch mannerisms of Captain Beefheart, and meld them to modern experimental rock sensibilities. With that unlikely combination, Kentucky’s Abel Ashes builds a foundation by which to celebrate the decay and collapse of consumerism, and cautions us on the general consequences of bourgeoisie stultification.
Ashes’ bottomed-out vocal tessitura will remind listeners of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum‘s Nils Frykdahl, or Steve Cash (Ozark Mountain Daredevils). Although assisted by six other musicians, Ashes does all the heavy lifting instrumentally. Eight of these 24 tracks are “rock” pieces, with the standard vocals/ guitar/ bass/ drums arrangements (‘Alamogordo Testing’ is a vehicle for dizzying ostinatos). The remainder is stream-of-conscience guitar daydreams, or disturbing montages (‘The Planes Operation’, ‘Phantoms of Lost Liberty’) created from 9/11-based news casts.
Whatever stylistic corridor Ashes’ subtle-as-a-plane crash muse guides him down, his stubbornly independent West Texas roots are ever present, and a genuinely tragic-comic posture would indicate that all this is meant to be good fun.”
The One True Dead Angel review of Abel Ashes – Eat Plastic and Other Elements [self released] -
“Better late than never….
Even by my standards, this is a pretty eccentric album. Multi-instrumentalist Abel Ashes has a peculiar sense of humor and surrealist sensibility highly reminiscent of Frank Zappa circa JOE’S GARAGE, with an experimental neo-jazz sound to match. (When you have band members like Marcos Fernandes and others from the West Coast free jazz / experimental scene in your band, it’s not quite as hard as you might think to match Frank’s instrumental genius.) This is actually a reissue featuring the original album’s ten tracks plus ten solo pieces recorded from 2000-2009 and four live recordings featuring Eric Hensel that were recorded at Lestat’s Coffeehouse in San Diego in 2001. In the same way that Zappa combined elements of early rock and roll and doo-wop with jazz and progressive rock, Ashes combines a poetic lyrical sensibility (he was originally a poet before moving on to more musical endeavors) with a musical sound that straddles the divide between progressive rock and free jazz. If you’re familiar with Cheer-Accident‘s idiosyncratic approach to prog rock, then the eclectic sound on display here will be familiar. The solo pieces are even stranger and, by and large, even more experimental, often delving into the pure exploration of sound rather than anything resembling actual songs, while the final four tracks — the live ones recorded with Hensel — are every bit as bizarre as anything else on the album, but more intense and immediate. (‘Eat Plastic and Other Elements’ is) recommended for enthusiasts of eccentricity and those still pining for the late, lamented Zappa.”
Pat Albertson, Aural Innovations #42 (May 2011) -
"Hailing from El Paso, Texas, Abel Ashes first started writing poetry as a teenager when his family moved to New Mexico. By the 1990's, he was performing in various small venues in San Diego, both solo, and as half of a duo with guitarist Eric Hensel. In 2001, Ashes released the ten track album ‘Eat Plastic’, which has been re-mastered and re-sequenced for this 2010 anthology; it is joined here by a further 14 pieces recorded between 2000 and 2009. While Ashes himself provides vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards and percussion on most of the original album tracks, he also enlisted a certain amount of outside help, including Fayd (marimba, keyboards and lack of last name) and Marcos Fernandes (drums and percussion).
On the original ‘Eat Plastic’ album, it is apparent that Ashes filled his head with the sounds of early Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, before graduating onto the likes of The Residents. The opening instrumental ‘Stop and Go Traffic’ is an excellent FZ style marimba and percussion-led jazz-funk workout; the extended introduction to "The Revolution Is Making Me Dizzy" grooves along in similar vein. Meanwhile, ‘The CEO’ features rapidly changing time signatures, before Ashes gives us his opening vocal shot, an impossibly deep and gravelly Beefheartean baritone, which includes one very long sustained bass note. The lyrics of this song (‘I am the CEO / and I'm gonna whip your ass’), ‘Food In My Gut’ (‘Sometimes I wish that I was dead / instead I crawl back in my head’), and ‘Commercials’ (‘Here's some commercials, here's something else / here's some commercials, you stupid ass’), contain post-modern satire for the working classes, the former featuring funky bass playing from Max Vazin, the latter some gloriously edgy guitar riffing. ‘Amtrak out of Orange County’ is a nightmare train journey, with noisy and atonal electronic soundscapes courtesy of Fayd. By comparison, ‘Goddess/Godless’ is a gentle (if markedly twisted) guitar and piano ballad, with one reassuring and repeated verse: ‘I will have no fear / with the goddess lying next to me’. The spoken word delivery and avant-garde backing track of ‘Lemming Sunset’, the final track on the original album, calls to mind Sun Ra reciting cosmic utterances over the top of Rick Wright's ‘Sysyphus’ - certainly not the kind of thing you would use to open a party!
The next section of the album features solo pieces recorded between 2000 and 2009 by Ashes, who by this time has completely dispensed with his own vocals. In light of tracks such as ‘The Planes Operation’ and ‘Phantoms Of Lost Liberty’ (complete with newsreader samples about terrorists, CIA headquarters and dire warnings of lost freedom), it is both intriguing and unnerving to read that, following the 9/11 attacks, Ashes temporarily quit music for activism (although he declines to elaborate what that might entail). Avant-garde keyboard and percussion noises return on ‘Swamp Cooler’, ‘Vehicle of Choice’, ‘Giant Metal Cockroaches’ and ‘Caveman Diplomacy’, before a semblance of musicality returns on ‘Steel Monster Hula Dance’. ‘Long Arm of the Hydrocarbon Mafia’ concludes the solo tracks in suitably minimalistic and chaotic fashion, with much of its nine minutes featuring what sounds like a hacksaw assaulting a set of un-tuned guitar strings.
The final four ‘Other Elements’ tracks are live recordings by Abel Ashes and guitarist Eric Hensel from a Found Objects concert in San Diego on August 15th 2001. Of these improvisational pieces, ‘Singing Whales of the Totem’ is the easiest on the ear, while ‘Zigzag Kamikaze’ is the most brutal, although the latter has stiff competition from set-closer ‘Adios Pendejos’.
Many of Abel Ashes' compositions bring to mind the sound of someone sitting (often alone) in their bedroom with a table full of diverse instruments and cheap recording equipment, making the kind of music they want to make, and caring less whether or not anyone else likes or even listens to it. With the exception of a few almost-jazz/rock tracks from the original album, it would take a brave soul indeed to explore this private musical journey. Nonetheless those with an ear for the extreme and experimental may find much to enjoy here. "
Rotcod Zzaj - IMPROVIJAZZATION Nation, Issue # 103 REVIEWS:
"If it's been a bit since you listened to players like Mothers of Invention or Beefheart, & you want to hear what they would sound like in the 21st Century, this 24 tune opus will be nirvana for you, no doubt! A fine example of just how ‘out’ this cat gets, check out ‘Amtrak out of Orange County’... you have never heard a ‘train song’ like this one, but it will keep your ears on paranoia alert! For some superb guitar antics, you'll have to listen to ‘Plunder the Garden’ - this is exactly the kind of free-form playing we were looking for back in the early days of the ‘Olympia Experimental Music Festival’... raw and very real. Nothing can top the madcap rants you'll hear on my favorite composition on this outing, though, ‘Stop and Go Traffic’; it's like Alvin the Chipmunks on heavy steroids. Wack, but in a totally talented zone. Is it jazz? No, not quite, but it surely is entertaining. For the listeners in our audience who love experimental and twisted tones, this gets a MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED – ‘EQ’ (energy quotient) rating is 4.95. "
John Bookman, Music for America (musicforamerica.org):
"When I listened to it for the first time, I was not sure what I was getting myself into. There are hints of Frank Zappa in there, in the guitar playing and the deep low voice that Abel Ashes uses in some of the songs, along with the humor. You can take the humor with a grain of salt, for the music on this CD is what will keep fans there and wanting to hear more. Or in a track like ‘The CEO’, the guy is almost a dead ringer for Calvin Johnson (of Beat Happening fame), and that alone is funny too, for here is Abel Ashes singing lyrics that make you want to laugh and yet does it in a deadpan voice. What also makes these songs interesting is that he's a good storyteller, even if those stories seem to go anywhere and everywhere, not unlike Primus. It's a cartoon-like musical world, with the music just as animated, moving from weird guitar feedback and distortion to jazzy lounge. It's oddball when it wants to be (which is most of the time) and yet carries a bit of a smirk which leads me to believe they know exactly what they're doing. Impressive work."
COMMENTS FROM FELLOW MUSICIANS:
"The music, the concepts, it is all so good. The line about broccoli in 'Amtrak' caught me off guard and I almost guffawed coffee on my keyboard! Total satisfaction is achieved by listening to you. Beautiful, even if the underlying truths are very scary." – Mike Gaito
"Hilarious and brilliant stuff...and I gotta give accolades for your activism...kinda thought I was the only one out there mixing that level of awareness with music. Your songs remind me a lot of what I used to do when I was really avant (before my testicles shriveled up and I started doing more ‘commercially viable’ material). I hear a lot of Zappa, a bit of Zoogz Rift, and a dash of John Trubee and the Ugly Janitors of America (if you remember them...few do)." – John Ludi
"Love ‘the CEO’. Stick it to the man!"- Greedy Jesus
“(The guitar solo on ‘Commercials’) sounds like Neil Young playing on ‘Hot Rats’.” – Marcos Fernandes _____________________________________________________________________________________________