Artist: Sean Ashe
Date of Release: January 12th, 2016
Location: Indiana, USA
Reviewer: Chris Giacca
For Fans Of: Plini, Joe Satriani, Marco Sfogli
1. Imagine 4:19
2. Memory Lane 3:28
3. Floating Thread 2:50
4. Luminescence 3:40
5. Creature (feat. Denis Chang) 2:41
6. Hemisphere 4:22
7. Meteor Eyes 5:10
8. Abandon 4:42
I’ve attempted to start this review a solid six times now. Six times, I’ve penned an intro. Six times, I’ve erased all trace of it. Six starts, for no results, thus far. This also happens to be my seventh listen-through of the masterpiece that is Flux, by Northern Indiana’s Sean Ashe. We often have instances where the line between correlation and causality is blurred, but rest assured, this is most certainly not one of them. Make no mistake, the reason for my literary profligacy is crystal clear. This album is a time-waster of the highest order, a licentious black hole of musical genius, the likes of which I’ve not come across since Plini‘s masterful Trilogy was released last year. In Flux, you have a myriad work of infectious melodies which will suck you in and command your attention for the full half-hour-and-change of its duration.
Starting out, I’ll apply the same caveat to this review as I always do whenever reviewing this particular genre. The musicians that comprise the instrumental/shred/virtuoso genre are all consummate theorists and technicians to a man (or woman), and as such, it is incredibly difficult to split the hairs required to analyze how good their respective pieces of art are. And they are all exceptional works of art, regardless of any personal leanings. In the grand scheme of things, this genre would probably be up there with my favourites, simply because of the immensely high quality of just about every proponent within it. When it comes to actually grading this style however, I feel there are a couple of criteria that dictate how enjoyable a shred album is. It is these extremely subjective criteria that I will be using in this review, because when everything is objectively brilliant, subjectivity is the only measure that remains.
So without further ado, let us delve into the wondrous sonic landscape of Flux. My first criteria that must be met – and it is the first criterion for a reason – is that the songs be memorable. On this front, the album is a resounding success, and overall it is the main thing that sticks with you. Sean has an astute pop sensibility, and this is exemplified repeatedly over the course of Flux. From the soaring chorus motifs, to the dextrous use of dynamics that really brings out the sheen in the verse melodies, Ashe really knows how to utilise the best aspects of his writing. Even the backing to his rich, tone-driven licks are replete with memorable hooks and bright counterpoint to his grandeur-laced melodies. Even the layered vocal lines in Meteor Eyes – delivered by Ashe and Sheridan Elektra Rohde – don’t feel out of place, on what is an otherwise completely instrumental recording. It’s difficult to pick a thematic highlight, but for mine, it must go to the bombastic chorus riff from Hemisphere, which also enjoys a reprisal at the back end of closing track Abandon.
The second criteria is originality. This is an extremely tricky one to cover, as obviously most things have been done before in any genre, and there is a fine line between “homage” and “outright plagiarism”. In this case, I can hear definite shades of Ashe’s contemporaries – most notably, and obviously, Plini – but it doesn’t ever cross the line into parody or thievery. The opening track Imagine is quite reminiscent of Plini’s Heart, both songs opening up with a somewhat whimsical acoustic guitar, before venturing into a tonally smoother direction. There are vague similarities throughout, but nothing galling. Another slight homage to the Sydney-based maestro might be present with the Hemisphere chorus redux in Abandon, although Plini is hardly the first – nor will he be the last – to use this particular writing device. In saying that, Plini himself is also a fan of treading the fine line of influence, what with his Tigran Hamasyan worship-laden track Wombat Astronaut and all, but I digress. Safe to say that Flux gains a resounding pass mark on this criterion as well.
The remaining standard for Chris’ enjoyment of instrumental shred albums, or “SFCEOISA” as it shall henceforth be known as, is diversity. One of the big problems that a lot of eminent shredders have, is that once you’ve blown through all 12 notes of the western musical octave in various positions, scales, modes and what have you, all of the songs tend to sound the same. Yes, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen, I’m looking in your direction. Now that’s not to say it isn’t very impressive, because of course it is, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to listen to a full hour of some dude with wild hair mercilessly bonking notes into submission like Jim Morrison in a room full of inebriated groupies. It is also true that many famous virtuosos have built entire careers around one or two particular scale choices, and unfortunately, that doesn’t really fly these days. Fortunately for Sean Ashe, this criticism doesn’t at all apply to him. If anything, Flux‘s 8 tracks are individually different enough that one might even go as far as to say they are indicative of first album syndrome; a slight lack of coherency that tends to come with long album cycles such as this (The first single was released in 2013!). That isn’t at all to say that the songs aren’t individually enjoyable, because they certainly are. It’s just difficult at times to see how the songs relate to one another, with the obvious exception of the first two tracks to each other, and the aforementioned Hemisphere/Abandon link.
So as you can see, based on all three SFCEOISAs, Flux is an utter triumph. It truly is a wonderful album, and I have enjoyed every single second spent listening and/or reviewing it. My only gripes with it are so minor it isn’t funny, but for the sake of being impartial, they are as follows. I’m not a fan of the closing lick from Luminescence, as I think it’s pretty redundant. I’m also not a fan of fade-outs at all. They are such a low percentage play, and work in such a small amount of songs, I would really rather that people just didn’t use them. I tend to view them as a lazy way of ending a song; the equivalent of taking a hit in Baseball, if you will. Oh, and the bass doesn’t really do that much throughout the whole album. Thus concludes this segment. That’s it. Literally three things. I couldn’t find an
See? See how annoying fade-outs are? Told you so.
To summarise, buy this fucking album. Seriously. It’s brilliant, and it’s worth the price of admission alone for the insane lick that leads out of the chorus of Hemisphere, or the exceptionally well-crafted piano section in Imagine, or the ball-tearing reprisal of Hemisphere et cetera, et cetera. Yes, it really is that good.
Personal Enjoyment: 10/10
Overall IPHYB Rating: 9/10
Standout Tracks: Hemisphere, Luminescence, Creature
Chris Giacca just may be the worst writer in the world, but it doesn't matter because he probably still has a bigger audience than you, so he is by default automatically right about everything. No exceptions. He's currently writing a novel which will be uploaded in single chapter installments as spoken word on bandcamp. Physical releases will be on laser disc only, limited to 17 1/2 units. Don't ask about the half.
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