Ash – ‘Islands’ Review

On their eighth album, the Northern Irish trio embrace the future – and Weezer

Just ask Elon Musk or Tom ‘MySpace’ Anderson – sometimes pioneers get burned. Take Ash, the Northern Irish trio of power-pop wunderkind who, after fifteen years of playing by the indie-rock rulebook, foresaw the streaming tsunami on the horizon, announced that 2007’s ‘Twilight Of The Innocents’ would be their last proper album, ditched their label and threw themselves face first into the future by releasing a single a fortnight for the best part of a year (‘The A-Z Series’). Streaming, unfortunately, was a bit too busy having a bad romance with Lady Gaga to take much notice, and Ash slunk back to the album format in 2015 with the effervescent ‘Kablammo!’, a record that kicked ass even with its tail between its legs. With this eighth album they return to even safer spaces – their original label Infectious – and prove, to the world as much as themselves, that in retrospect, Ash wasn’t broke and they didn’t need to fix it.

Thankfully their muscular melodic clout survived that five-year foray outside the rock industry norms: ‘Islands’ is as ferocious and catchy as ever. And while it’s undoubtedly a record of consolidation, a return to familiar home ground, it also gently scouts new territory. They’ve clearly had their heads turned by touring with Weezer; the sparky chugs of ‘Silver Suit’, ‘All That I Have Left’ and first single ‘Annabel’ are pure ‘Green Album’, right down to singer Tim Wheeler’s mid-Atlantic vocal inflections. ‘Don’t Need Your Love’ is a Weezer-style surf-rock ballad, while ‘Confessions In The Pool’ imagines what might have happened if Franz Ferdinand had made an album with Rivers Cuomo rather than Sparks.

Less predictably, ‘True Story’ is scorched by the sonic fireballs of The National and Arcade Fire; ‘Did Your Love Burn Out?’ is a Morricone-indie slink in the ‘AM’ vein. These are signs of Ash dove-tailing with the modern alt-rock front-runners, allowing their mature meditations on friendship, betrayal, love and loss to nestle alongside indie’s emotional behemoths. Fans of the ferocious young tykes of 1996 can feast on the savage ‘Buzzkill’, a gymnastic display of punk-pop swearing, but sumptuous post-rock epics like finale ‘Incoming Waves’ point to a grander future for Ash. No band is an island, but Ash’s peaks rise as tall as any other.

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