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Ashtray Navigations - Four More Raga Moods

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Artist: Ashtray Navigations

Album: Four More Raga Moods

Label: Ikuisuus

Review date: Aug. 20, 2006

For the fourth installment in its ongoing documentation of modern-day drones and open-ended musics, the Finnish label Ikuisuus has brought to light another episode of Phil Todd’s Ashtray Navigations project. Where the label’s previous releases have focused on more austere and introverted approaches, Four More Raga Moods is a touch more maximalist, a bit cheekier and most definitely more sprawling.  

Todd, in fact, seems to thrive on sprawl. Ashtray Navigations, now a decade-old, has an arm-long discography stretched across an armada of labels. The unit’s music unfurls, unwinds and altogether unshackles itself from the trappings of linear narrative. The four pieces included here don’t evolve; they accumulate the silt of six-string squall, hazy picking, tape manipulation, the twinkle, glow and plunk of analog synths, clusters of percussion, and great-lunged droning devices until they loom like mountains, only to erode and wash away back into silence.  

Todd’s virtue on Four Raga Moods is one of arrangement. He has surely collected much of his material from improvised sessions, but he has collaged the sounds on tape in the same fashion as he pastes and layers the album cover’s montages. “History of Psychedelia” jump-cuts between loops of clicking and jangling percussion, intermittent transmissions of ringing tones and tangles of guitars frayed by reverb and tape mutations, courtesy of Ben Reynolds and Andy Jarvis. A sheer wall of static and the random brushing of wind against a microphone dominate the opening of “The Pete Nolan Effect,” but through the cracks in its mottled surface creep ascending and descending electric piano arpeggios, pastoral guitar strumming and the occasional distant crash of a feedback explosion. When the static tapers out at around the 10-minute mark and the guitars charge the foreground, Todd’s purpose materializes: eliminate hierarchy among the sounds; compress depth into a single cloud. 

Some might feel the 67-minute running time to be overlong, indulgent even, but without such room to extend, Todd’s sprawl wouldn’t ascend the same heights. With a few subtle structural nods Todd leaves a jet-trail image of each piece in the listener. On “Hey Sunflower Motherfucker,” a single gentle oscillation, harp-like in timbre, undulates through the track’s duration and connects the shifting textures of distended guitar, synthesizer blasts and rattling drums that commune around it. On the 33-minute behemoth “The Pete Nolan Effect,” vague traces of the track’s opening passage reappear in its final moments, a mnemonic layer that points both backwards and forwards. Four More Raga Moods engages with all the micro-managed detail one seeks in a good electronica record, yet still storms the senses with its unhinged psychedelic play. 

By Matthew Wuethrich

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