Review – AshFeathers – World Building

AshFeathers is a new acoustic project by singer-songwriter Tom Slatter. A mixture of one-man-and-a-guitar acoustic songs with synths and electronic percussion, ‘World Building’ is 10 tracks about getting lost – deliberately or accidentally – in fictional worlds.

“Part of the motivation in starting AshFeathers was that I wanted to do something quite different in tone from the melodramatic, sometimes dark prog-rock I’m known for. There are still hints of the things a prog rock fan might like – one track is in 7/8 for example. But this album owes more to my love of Thom Yorke, Tori Amos and Jon Gomm and lots of other singer-songwriters,” Tom said.

“Plus, i got a new acoustic guitar, and wanted some new songs to play with it…”

Tom’s a friend (at least I think he is?) and I’ve been a fan of his music since I first heard ‘Through These Veins’ way back in early 2014, he is a musician who continuously reinvents himself and the genre he chooses to work in. His steampunk sensibilities aren’t always to everyone’s taste but, if you don’t try something different, how do you know if you’ll like it or not? His irreverent and extremely clever music suits his bandcamp site’s description of, “A latter-day Victorian street-theatre barker with a guitar promising tales of mystery, imagination, ‘orrible murders and bloody great waving tentacles”.

Well, as Tom says, he’s gone from the dark and deliciously melodramatic to the wistful and contemplative with his new AshFeathers project and it is a direction that I think suits him a lot.

The opening two tracks Nothing You Can’t Buy and Mirrorworld both have their roots in Tom’s musical past, especially the lyrical content of the former, a clever tale of an assassin who has hidden his identity and taken refuge in a bizarre city where you can buy anything – including abstract concepts like broken promises. The music has a deep down honesty amidst its wistful delivery, Tom’s new acoustic guitar proving a very canny purchase but, for me, it’s how his unique and distinctive vocal seems to marry perfectly with the music that makes this something completely different. At once both dreamlike and yet mournful and forlorn, it is stripped back and rather lovely. The latter piece, Mirrorworld, is about losing a friend or family member to online propaganda and you can feel that feeling of loss throughout the track. There’s a halting edge to the guitar and the timbre of Tom’s voice all delivered in a candid emotive and soul searching song, painful, raw emotional wounds laid bare. Cuckoo has a serious tone to the music, a slight tension in the guitar and vocals, emphasised by the electronic vibe of the synths. Sad, reflective and thoughtful, it music that tests the grey matter and makes you think and there isn’t enough of that about nowadays. Driftwood is a song that takes after it’s title, seemingly wandering aimlessly through your psyche with no distinct purpose but it does so with a grace and elegance that is just so appealing. The sublime instrumental In Between is a haunting, ethereal piece of music where Tom’s acoustic guitar plays on nostalgia and sentimentality to leave its mark on your soul, it’s calming and reflective and just a delight to listen to.

Title track Worldbuilding is rather impressive, a song about getting lost in a fictional world, having lost hold of the thread that was supposed to guide you – Theseus – style – back to the real world. The guitar playing is intricate and precise and the vocal has a searching edge to it, it’s a serious feeling track with an eerie atmosphere that is really addictive. Another stand out track is the charismatic and engaging Every Word I Write with it’s jazzy electronic percussion and catchy chorus, “Everything I write is an ode to you..”, has Tom written a pop song? Don’t let him hear me say that! The music on My Love Is Bigger Than The Sky shimmers and shines and lights up this pensive song, it’s rapidly becoming an earworm for me with its irrepressible guitar line and that ever classy electronic percussive beat. Add in another contemplative vocal and you’ve got yet another quality track. A more upbeat track, making full use of the electronica, Map Of Scars could be straight from a recent Radiohead album, excellent musicianship and a banjo, if I’m not mistaken, giving this song a real storytelling feel and more than a little hint of prog. The album closes with the haunting brilliance of We Can Be Anyone, Tom hitting the heights with his songwriting on this dark feeling song. There’s always something positive to be found in the dark and that shines through in this pensive five minutes plus of music, Tom’s vocal leading the way.

With ‘Word Building’ Tom Slatter has introduced his new AshFeathers project to the world from a pretty exalted position. The more relaxed, laid back feel, full of airiness and space really suits this talented musician and has culminated in a highly enjoyable release that I think may introduce him to a wider audience and that may go someway to helping him pay for that new acoustic guitar…

World Building will be out on January 17th 2024 at If Tom can get himself sorted by then.

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