Album review: surreal brilliance of Ashley Reaks

Ashley Reaks.
Ashley Reaks.

By Graham Chalmers

Ashley Reaks: Before Koresh

If you want to know what an album by Ashley Reaks sounds like, just look at the cover.

Designed by this genre-hopping Harrogate ‘émigré’ in London himself, the front sleeve of Before Koresh is a rich surrealistic collage of contrasting images and styles, as disturbing as it is attractive.

An accomplished musician, artist and poet, Ashley’s latest seventh solo album boasts a sprightly, warm sound and strong melodies recorded at Harrogate’s Active Audio Studios by producer Dan Mizen.

But being Ash, this gorgeous-sounding stew of rock music and world music, dub and trip hop, spoken word and pop is disrupted by little hand grenades at every turn.

Performed mainly by Ash himself, Dave Kemp, Nick Dunne and Dan Mizen on bass, drums, guitar, sax and accordian, bits of punk, prog, reggae and polyrhythms unsettle the sound - the perfect backdrop for some truly unsettling lyrics.

Is Before Koresh autobiography or satire. Is Ashley serious about society’s ills or just a bemused observer with a dark sense of humour?

It’s hard to tell, there’s so much going on from opening title track Before Koresh to closer Hell and Back Again, Ash sharing vocal duties with guests including Leonard Phillips, lead singer of LA punks The Dickies, northern street poets Kevin Boniface and Joe Hakim and Norway’s beautiful-sounding Eastern-flavoured Maria Jardardottir.

Some have described this inventive musical provocateur as a cross between Robert Wyatt, Godley and Crème and Daevid Allen.

But even that fails to do justice to the compelling nature and wide-ranging brilliance of Before Koresh.