‘Winter Crawls’ is the 13th solo album from prolific English musician, collage artist and writer Ashley Reaks. Writing and recording started in 2018 but was repeatedly interrupted and delayed by divorce, relocation, the Covid-19 pandemic and a string of chronic health conditions. ‘Winter Crawls’ is the first of Reaks’ albums to feature the polyrhythmic talents of drummer Rob Hirons, which nudges the material into a more ‘proggy’ sonic soundscape, whilst retaining the genre-hopping influences of previous albums.
Influences include Stranglers, cut and paste, Rip Rig And Panic, bebop, Captain Beefheart, collage, Magazine, post-punk, Yes, Ivor Cutler, religious imagery, The Pop Group, Gee Vaucher, psychedelia, Gabriel-era Genesis, Dada, nature books, Devo, Francis Bacon…
The players on this collection of musical curiosities and hidden gems are Reaks himself (vocals, bass, guitar, keyboards), Lucy Mizen (vocals), Nick Dunne (electric guitars, acoustic guitars and guitar solos), Joel Purnell (saxophone), Rob Hirons (drums) and Dan Mizen (percussion).
Where do we start on an album as diverse and wide ranging as this? It’s a cornucopia of musical brilliance in places and hugely disturbing (in a highly entertaining way) in others. Genre hopping with the best of them, I’m hearing psychedelic snippets of Lost Crowns, Gong, Knifeworld on one side, the Canterbury influences of Henry Fool, the sharp cutting edge of Bent Knee and even bits of Pink Floyd on the other! In some ways it just shouldn’t work but like some mad scientist, Ashley Reaks seems to be able to knit it all together perfectly to create something quite unique and, in places, utterly brilliant!
It’s very divisive, and that’s even for people that like it, and I do! There are days when I can’t go near it as it does require you to be in the exact mood to listen to it and get the most from it but, when that inspiration particle and the mood hits you, it is really rather marvellous. Nick Dunne’s guitar playing is of a seriously high calibre and he flits from intricate, fusion, left-field and straight up rock with ease and Ashley’s vocals are highly individual and distinctive in a very good way, especially when paired with the heady, delicate voice of Lucy Mizen, it’s haunting, mysterious and almost supernatural in places. One of the highlights for me is the superb saxophone of Joel Purnell, I do love a saxophone and Joel’s playing is utterly sublime, his jazz/fusion style being perfect for Ashley’s incredibly innovative and perhaps overactive mind. And we must take our hat off to Rob’s superbly intricate polyrhythmic drumming which gives a proper dynamism to the music.
The songs are as mad and brilliant as their titles, The Murmur of Things Divine, Fundamentally Christ Like (with it’s Pink Floyd Money style intro), Homesick at Home and Early Ripe Early Rotten are real standouts, magnificently over the top and proud of it but there’s no lull or drop in standards anywhere on this superb release. If I had to pick a favourite then it would probably be Homesick at Home (especially Nick’s superb solo and Joel’s uber cool sax) but that could change tomorrow when each song has its own delights to discover.
You won’t hear anything else quite like ‘Winter Crawls’, it has a mind and life of its own at times and that’s testament to the complex, inventive and ingenious imagination of Ashley Reaks. It’s not for everyone but when everything clicks and you get what he is trying to achieve, there’s some serious musical nirvana going on here and I love it!
Released 15th August, 2023.
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