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+ Donato Wharton - Body Isolations
+ Svalastog - Woodwork
+ Tim Hecker - Harmony In Ultraviolet
+ Rosy Parlane - Jessamine
+ Jarvis Cocker - The Jarvis Cocker Record
+ Múm - Peel Session
+ Deloris - Ten Lives
+ Minimum Chips - Lady Grey
+ Badly Drawn Boy - Born In The U.K.
+ The Hold Steady - Boys And Girls Together
+ The Blood Brothers - Young Machetes
+ The Places - Songs For Creeps
+ Camille - Le Fil
+ Wolf Eyes - Human Animal
+ Christina Carter - Electrice
+ The Decemberists - The Crane Wife
+ Junior Boys - So This Is Goodbye
+ Various Artists - Musics In The Margin
+ Rafael Toral - Space
+ Bob Dylan - Modern Times
+ Excepter - Alternation
+ Chris Thile - How To Grow A Woman From The Ground
+ Brad Mehldau - Live in Japan
+ M Ward - Post-War
+ Various Artists - Touch 25
+ The Mountain Goats - Get Lonely
+ The White Birch - Come Up For Air
+ Camera Obscura - Let's Get Out of This Country
+ Coachwhips - Double Death
+ Various Artists - Tibetan And Bhutanese Instrumental And Folk Music, Volume 2
+ Giuseppe Ielasi - Giuseppe Ielasi
+ Cex - Actual Fucking
+ Sufjan Stevens - The Avalanche
+ Leafcutter John - The Forest And The Sea
+ Carla Bozulich - Evangelista
+ Barbara Morgenstern - The Grass Is Always Greener
+ Robin Guthrie - Continental
+ Peaches - Impeach My Bush
+ Oakley Hall - Second Guessing
+ Klee - Honeysuckle
+ The Court & Spark - Hearts
+ TV On The Radio - Return To Cookie Mountain
+ Awesome Color - Awesome Color
+ Jenny Wilson - Love And Youth
+ Asobi Seksu - Citrus
+ Marsen Jules - Les Fleurs
+ The Moore Brothers - Murdered By The Moore Brothers
+ Regina Spektor - Begin To Hope
+ The 1900s - Plume Delivery EP
+ Alejandro Escovedo - The Boxing Mirror
+ Function - The Secret Miracle Fountain
+ Sonic Youth - Rather Ripped
+ Loscil - Plume
+ Boris - Pink
+ Deadboy And The Elephantmen - We Are Night Sky
+ Glissandro 70 - Glissandro 70
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #2)
+ Calexico - Garden Ruin (Review #1)
+ The Flaming Lips - At War With The Mystics
+ The Glass Family - Sleep Inside This Wheel
+ Various Artists - Songs For Sixty Five Roses
+ The Fiery Furnaces - Bitter Tea
+ Motorpsycho - Black Hole/Blank Canvas
+ The Red Krayola - Introduction
+ Metal Hearts - Socialize
+ American Princes - Less And Less
+ Sondre Lerche And The Faces Down Quartet - Duper Sessions
+ Supersilent - 7
+ Band Of Horses - Everything All The Time
+ Dudley Perkins - Expressions
+ Growing - Color Wheel
+ Red Carpet - The Noise Of Red Carpet
+ The Essex Green - Cannibal Sea
+ Espers - II
+ Wilderness - Vessel States

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I didn't know quite what to think earlier this year when I read that young Irish vets Ash wanted to move in a "heavy" direction à la Nirvana's Nevermind or Guns N' Roses Appetite for Destruction on their fifth album. Of course, part of the reason I was puzzled was that less than a year earlier, Ash singer/guitarist Tim Wheeler had told the NME that he wanted to do something more "experimental" after he'd had a grand time using a computer-heavy music-making approach to score a short film about the band. But here we are, three years on from Free All Angels, and Ash have delivered Meltdown, another record that can only be described as, well, an Ash record.

That’s not to say that Ash should go the Wedding Present route and print up self-parodying T-shirts reading "All the songs sound the same." But like David Gedge's late band, Belfast's Ash have carved out a highly distinctive sound over a 12-year career that began back when the three founding members were still in high school. Using the raw, punk-pop sound of The Buzzcocks as a starting place, Ash show their affection for bands like Nirvana as they mix loud guitars with strong, highly hummable melodies and Tim Wheeler’s boyish vocals.

Questing for heaviness, the band came to record in Los Angeles with producer Nick Raskulinecz, who has recently worked with Foo Fighters and "supergroup" Velvet Revolver. But outside of some small metallic flourishes on a handful of tracks, including the Frampton-esque "talking guitar" and riff- (and cowbell!) heavy verses of "Detonator," the drum-crazy introduction of "Meltdown," and the flanged effect employed on "Orpheus," these songs are undeniably Ash, albeit with few of the change-of-pace ballads the band does so well. Curiously, throughout the 11 tracks on Meltdown, almost every tune does away with the producer's touch by the time the chorus kicks in.

And as usual, what choruses they are, with Wheeler and guitarist Charlotte Hatherlay's voices blending seamlessly to take the listener to pure pop heaven, Hatherlay making her strongest vocal contributions yet to the band she joined back in 1997. The words, as always, don't add up to a whole lot; Wheeler rarely expands his palette beyond the typical science-fiction and boy-girl stuff, this time with a bit of youthful rebellion shining through on the title track's call to rise up against "the witch doctors and the politicians/[who] rule by fear and try to keep us down." That's not a complaint, as Ash straddle the line between pop and punk so well.

Ash are such a remarkably consistent band that it's almost impossible to judge the merits of any one of their albums against the others. With their latest, Ash cap off a remarkable five-album run that's almost unprecedented in these times, and none of the members are even 30 yet. If you're a fan of tuneful, American-influenced pop-punk, Ash are waiting to burn a hole through your heart.

by Steve Gozdecki

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