(New Album Review) Ashley Paul- Line the Clouds

Ashley Paul’s new album Line the Clouds strikes an uneasy nerve in me. Tremulous melodies seem crushed under the weight of an overwhelming anxiety. I suppose that a lot of experimental and progressive music is like this– perhaps it’s because intelligent people can often be a little more neurotic and emotionally conflicted. After all, discord has been the dominant tone in art music for the past 60 or so years. All the same, I’m interested in this kind of music even if I cannot relate to it very well.

Paul’s own introspective version of relatively-free-form-music often sounds a bit like half-whispered, emotionally charged confessions set against some kind of exotic ceremony. I would not be surprised at all if she has been influenced by, in addition to free jazz and modern western art music, traditional Japanese music.

Paul is a highly accomplished musician who predominantly uses clarinet and percussive instruments, in addition to piano, guitar, and others, to create fascinating, if slightly alienating, musical landscapes. I mentioned in passing that her music creates impressions of maybe something vaguely Japanese; it’s also worth mentioning that, despite the harshness of her aesthetic, there is a kind of stillness to some pieces on here, particularly the lovely “Watch them Pass” and the closing track, “You’re a feeling”. This is extreme music, the realm of the bleached and dread-inspiring beauty of Scelsi and all his descendants. Its arresting beauty makes it a must-listen of the year for any fan of art music.

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