Ashe Tells Stories About Love, Healing, and Loss on Her Debut Album, Ashlyn

 

In the absolute flurry of new music that released today (including tracks from Gracie Abrams and Conan Gray), it was Ashe's debut album that I arrived to last. Ashe is an artist I don't remember ever deciding to like. She's just collaborated with a number of artists I liked (Niall Horan and Finneas) until she was somehow in my consciousness without much of a choice. I liked "Moral of the Story", but it was her early single, "Save Myself" that made me take special note. While I don't keep up with Ashe as much as some of the other artists I write about, I think she's a really special addition to the pop space. Her writing skills are fantastic, and I love seeing an example of someone in their late 20s emerging in a big way into the music scene. I think there's a feeling that you have to be 22 to launch a mainstream career, but that's far from true. More than anything, Ashe's slightly older point of view allows her to push the topics that pop talks about from first heartbreaks to divorce and thoroughly lived reflections on the intricacies of life. 

Ashlyn has been a long time coming, though. As a result, almost half the songs were already out when the album dropped. I understand that the album had a long lead time and she wanted to include some of the early hits on the album, but I struggled to get excited for the album initially. I wanted to hear the new songs right away, but I also wanted to hear the order of the songs as she intended. There were 7 pre-released tracks out of 14 (but really more like 13 since "Moral of the Story" is included twice, which is an interesting choice for the standard version of the album). If I'm being honest, I still haven't listened from top to bottom. Instead, I did something that I never do. I clicked a random track I hadn't heard in the middle of the album. I've since gone back and listened to the new tracks in order, but I don't think that this was the worst approach with this piece. 

"Taylor" was the first song I listened to last night because I was intrigued by the title. Luckily, this song didn't disappoint. Before it was even through, I'd added it to my playlist. It's all about how young love doesn't last, even when it feels absolutely perfect in the moment. I love the simple, comforting guitars on this song and the floaty, dreamy vocals. It's one of plainer tracks on the album, but I think that plays to its advantage. It almost feels like a lullaby. "Taylor" is also a great example of Ashe's brilliant, poetic yet conversational writing skills. This is one of the few tacks that expertly showcases that but also has none of the sarcastic wit that's laced through her songs. This is a defanged reflection. I also love that the track ends with the sound of a car door clicking open. She's finally ready to go. "Taylor" feels like a softer version of the earlier song "Love Is Not Enough"Favorite Lyric: "Baby, we could meet again when we're 33/It's hard to keep a love you meet at fifteen/But my best friend was wrong when she said "You're just young, not in love". 

Following "Taylor", I rolled right into "Not Mad Anymore", intrigued by the title. I love how the track starts with just voice and piano. It almost sounds like a musical theater song. When she hits the chorus, the piano transitions into a foot tapping percussion and a chorus of voices that only add to this theatrical feeling. This song is much more indicative of the production on the album as a whole. There's a distinctly vintage feeling mixed with modern tactics familiar to Top 40 radio, a theatrical edge, a touch of folk music, and a simplicity with some glitter sprinkled on top. She sings about the time she was being controlling on a road trip and he threw himself out of the car while it was still moving they were so desperate to get away from each other by the second verse. But she also comes to terms with the fact that good things don't last forever. "The best songs never last for very long," she shrugs. And, in the end, she finds peace in the fact that everybody and everything dies. Favorite Lyric: "That's life, no one makes it out alive/Oh no, not even Jesus Christ". 

A song I missed on my original listen through was "Always". It's a striking piano and strings ballad about loving someone and letting them go. It tells a different part of the story than the constant fighting and jabs chronicled in "Moral of the Story". She inspects it from the angle of the devastation of losing someone you love but knowing that's the right answer. "Always" hits even harder because it's followed up by "Moral of The Story"'s opening line, "So I never really knew you/God I really tried to". While they might be confusing to line up back to back, I think it makes them more powerful because grief is irrational, and you can love someone forever, even when they actually turned out to be a really awful person. I love that Ashe has the range to tell this story from so many different points of view because your feelings on the situation can totally change by the day or even the hour. Favorite Lyric: "What if staying isn't the best way to keep you happy?/And if letting you go is the best way to show you I love you, I will". 

Despite all the heartbreak on this album, nothing is more devastating than "Ryne's Song" where she sings about losing her brother after having a difficult relationship. The song is written like a monologue of her thoughts processing this grief and also speaking to him. Every single lyric in this song hits incredibly hard, and she paints really amazing images. In the first verse, she recounts not getting to say a real final goodbye and the shattering of her innocent bubble. "I got your voicemail again, seemed like you were busy/So I tried to hide all the disappointment in the message I left behind/If I could only be that ignorant girl for a couple more hours or so/But I got a call soon after you died". The way she sings it so serenely is utterly heartbreaking. The song centers around how we don't have an infinite amount of time at the end of the day. Sometimes, there's no chance to fix it later. The second verse is dedicated to Ashe considering what he must have been feeling and how he changed her life. The bridge is by far the most gut wrenching section where she calls back to the series of phone calls in the first verse. "I always thought we'd fix things in our 40s or so/I never imagined that I'd be the only one getting old/Yeah, I'd like to think that if I had known there were only some hours left/Before you were gone forever/I would've called you back sooner," she sings. The track ends with a voicemail from Ryne himself, and it only makes the track more heartbreaking. Favorite Lyrics: I don't wanna cry cause it doesn't help. 

Finally, I just wanted to wrap it up with my thoughts on some of my favorite singles from the album that I haven't written about already. "Moral of Story" is definitely worth the mention. While I'm glad that Niall's participation on the song boosted Ashe's stardom, I think I like the original version more. Niall replaced her second verse with his own, and I just don't think his version packs the same punch as her story of trying to paint the house like her grandparents did but it turns into a massive fight. She lands so many incredible jabs ("Talking to my lawyer/She said "where'd you find this guy"/I said young people fall in love with the wrong people sometimes" and also "You can think that you're in love when you're really just engaged (in pain)" {this change up in the final loop was rumored to actually be Billie Eilish's idea}), and the piano is a perfect mix of modern and distinctly Ashe. I also absolutely adore "Save Myself". Both the lyrics and the production are so incredibly perfect. It's the best of the angry break up genre. I love how she transitions "I could have saved myself time and lots of money" to "I could have saved myself from wasting half my 20s". The dynamics in the song create an entire rollercoaster, and the mix of pain and wit just creates perfection. 

I think I've rambled enough for now about Ashlyn, but I really do love the album. Ashe sounds like absolutely no one else, especially no one on pop radio. Her vintage sound seems to be the direction that Billie Eilish is heading in, but something about the way that Ashe delivers it doesn't throw me off the way Billie's performance of it does. I guess Ashe's sound, her look, the way she speaks all ties so perfectly together into this persona of a person that's completely swept up in the past yet thoroughly modern. It's truly fascinating, and there's always something compelling about her songs. This is a highly successful 2021 album and stands out in subject matter and in sound. It makes me excited to jump back into the ticket buying arena when Ashe releases presale for her 2022 tour next week. 

More on Ashe...

Till Forever Falls Apart Song/Video Review

Niall at Royal Albert Hall

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