A Sunny Day in Glasgow | Ashes Grammar
Most Likely To: provide soothing dreams, but leave one vaguely unsatisfied upon waking.
In many ways, the Philadelphia sibling act A Sunny Day in Glasgow is the apotheosis of dream-pop. They come as close as anyone to combining all the different roots of the dream-pop family tree into a cohesive whole, incorporating the Cocteau Twins, the mellower brand of shoegazing practiced by Slowdive, ornate psyechedlia, darkwave Goth ala Love Spirals Downward or Lycia, trance music, Eno-ish ambient soundscapes, and even a touch of blissed out dance music. For the most part, it’s an enchanting stew of gorgeous vocals from twin sisters Robin and Lauren Daniels and soaring instrumental textures from the band led by their brother Ben. However, there are definitely moments when the band might benefit from popping a little more than dreaming.
On Ashes Grammar, the Danielses and associates string together a number of brief ambient snippets and more lengthy tracks to create a single unified piece, to fairly excellent effect. The album works best when listened to in its entirety, as the careful pacing of the music’s ebbs and flows is allowed to create the dreamlike state it was obviously intended to. The twins’ vocals are generally low in the mix and treated as another instrumental texture, conjuring up a drifting feeling of distant longing and desire. It’s lovely stuff.
However, it can be vaguely frustrating stuff, also. Treating the vocals as another instrument worked great for My Bloody Valentine and the Cocteaus, but it doesn’t always work to A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s advantage. Several tracks on Ashes Grammar could be standout pop numbers if the female vocals were treated more traditionally, rather than just coming across as more texture. The pulsating “Passionate Introverts” could be a dancefloor hit with a slightly different mix, while the shimmering guitars of “Shy” and “The White Witch” are just screaming out to back up strong vocal performances. And those performances are there, just de-emphasized. “Close Chorus,” “Starting at a Disadvantage,” and “Headphone Space” likewise have the potential to be some of the most memorable dream-pop recorded since the dissolution of the Cocteaus. Much of Ashes Grammar feels like an exercise in missed opportunities.
Still, it’s pointless to review the album you wish a band had made instead of the one it did make. The structure and mix of Ashes Grammar make it obvious that A Sunny Day in Glasgow is not interested in creating individual pop tunes so much as they are creating cohesive long-form works of sustained mood and atmosphere. In that, they are unquestionably successful and Ashes Grammar is a truly impressive and beautiful achievement. And if they should decide in the future to explore more standard song craft, they’ve proven they have all the necessary skills to excel at it. They already have, but this time out, they’ve decided to bury the songs in the service of the greater whole. At a time when the pundits are loudly proclaiming the death of the album as an art form, that’s a brave and admirable choice.