The sun-swept hills of California have inspired artists for decades. It was in this setting that LA-based singer-songwriter, Ashe, penned and recorded her highly anticipated debut album Ashlyn. Complete with stunning instrumentals, heartfelt lyricism and Ashe’s sugary soft voice, Ashlyn is a body of work which sees its creator airing her thoughts and experiences across 14 tracks of pure indie pop bliss.
The album opens with ‘Till Forever Falls Apart’ (a collaboration with FINNEAS) and ‘I’m Fine’. ‘Till Forever Falls Apart’ is a romantic opening track which sees Ashe and FINNEAS singing about love’s resilience. With Ashe’s vocals and FINNEAS’s folksy tones, the resulting soundscape is used to show the scale of the song’s message. Guitars and drums play triumphantly alongside the faint hint of cymbals to give the track an epic church/gospel feel. In contrast to this, ‘I’m Fine’ uses its bass heavy soundscape to reflect the song’s tongue-in-cheek lyrics. It talks about the moments where we pretend to be fine, but we’re anything but. With lines such as ‘woke up too early / almost put salt in my coffee’ and ‘I try to say I’m fine (I’m fine) / you don’t (you don’t) / believe (believe me) / when I say I’m alright (alright)’, the song is undeniably relatable to all who listen to it.
“Ashlyn is deeply reflective and honest, full of stories of my experiences with fear and pain and turning those hard things into joy and independence,” says Ashe.
‘Love Is Not Enough’, When I’m Older’ and ‘Me Without You’ all use the piano to create different moods. On ‘Love Is Not Enough’, Ashe’s vocals beautifully soar over pure, unfiltered chimes of piano keys. At the same time, it allows Ashe to reveal to her lover that she is ready to take their relationship further. ‘Woah, ‘cause love is not enough / but at least I’ve got your touch,’ Ashe sings, the track’s backing vocals adding another gospel touch. ‘When I’m Older’ and ‘Me Without You’ both use the piano to colour their bass-driven/faster paced soundscapes. While the former allows Ashe to examine her past, present and future in relation to her lover, the latter is Ashe’s chance of conveying the freedom from being without them. ‘But I can be me without you (ba-da, ba-da) / I don’t feel lost without you,’ Ashe rubs in, while the string instruments cheekily play in the back.
‘Save Myself’ is incredibly vulnerable. Here, Ashe draws listeners further into the story of her divorce from her ex-husband. ‘Save Myself’ feels as if it belongs in a movie. It’s easy to imagine a film’s protagonist running away from their old life with the song playing in the background. On top of that, the track’s production of drums, angelic backing vocals and Ashe’s high notes make it a stand out on the album.
‘Taylor’ is where Ashlyn takes an acoustic turn. Filled with peaceful guitar strings and Ashe’s layered vocals singing of young love, the only problem with ‘Taylor’ is that it ends too soon. With that being said, it’s the perfect set up for ‘Not Mad Anymore’. Backed by piano, rhythmic bass and sick beat drops, the song reveals that Ashe and her lover are ‘burned out like a star’. It takes listeners on a journey as Ashe realises that she’s ‘not mad anymore about the madness’.
“Writing this album was also an opportunity to show that I’m not just a songwriter and a singer but a producer and a musician with a very clear vision for my art. Joni Mitchell refers to herself like a bee, gathering stories like pollen and trying to make honey from it, ‘whether or not the flavo[u]r suits people is something beyond my control.’ I really tried to take that approach to writing this album, making something I loved above everything else,” says Ashe.
‘Always’ is another ballad on the album. Similar to ‘Love Is Not Enough’, ‘Always’ gives Ashe’s vocals a slight vintage effect as she sings of her brother’s death. ‘What if staying with me isn’t the best way to keep you happy? / and if letting you go is the best way to show that I love you, I will,’ Ashe passionately declares. Understandably, Ashe’s vocals are filled with the pain of her brother’s loss. It’s heartbreaking, yet beautiful.
The quiet emotions that come with piano keys are carried into ‘Moral of the Story’. The song accompanies its piano with hand claps, drum beats, backing vocals and decorates it all with birdlike backing vocals. Lyrically, ‘Moral of the Story’ is Ashe’s chance to move on from a past relationship. ‘Thought we could really do this / but really, I was foolish,’ Ashe sings in a conversational tone.
‘Serial Monogamist’, ‘Ryne’s Song’ and ‘Kansas’ come next. Both ‘Serial Monogamist’ and ‘Kansas’ are the beat-driven bookends to the introspective, piano-driven ‘Ryne’s Song’. Of the three, ‘Serial Monogamist’ is the most sassy as Ashe reflects on whether or not staying with her lover is worth it. There’s a distinct contemporary 1940s feel to the song as drums, guitars and what sounds like an electric synth come together to form Ashe’s most hip-swaying song. At the same time, ‘Kansas’ takes on a more commercial sound with its heavy usage of bass and beats. With lyrics like ‘and you came to Kansas for romances / so soak it up while you can / as long as you belong to me (ah, ah, ah)’, the song is oddly sensual.
‘Ryne’s Song’ is the opposite. Here, Ashe directly addresses all the emotions of her brother’s death in her voice and lyrics. Without a doubt, the song has the best lyricism on the album. ‘I got your voicemail again, seemed like you were busy / so I tried to hide all the disappointment in the message I left behind,’ Ashe sings. Ashe doesn’t hide her feelings behind metaphors. Instead, she lets us know exactly how she’s feeling. Her brother played a significant role in shaping her into the woman that she is today. To capture that, Ashe turns to the trusty piano to colour the song’s emotional soundscape alongside the personable tone that her vocals take on.
Ashlyn closes out with a remix of ‘Moral of the Story’. Former One Direction star, Niall Horan, joins Ashe on the song. While the song’s original production isn’t significantly changed, Horan’s presence on the track adds a male perspective that gives the song a totally different feel to its original counterpart.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Ashlyn and I hope many people happen to love it too,” admits Ashe.
All in all, Ashlyn is a journey of love, heartbreak and everything in between. Ashe bares her heart and soul into every lyric, note and instrument. It’s easy to see why she’s gaining the respect of her peers and her fans. Ashe is an artist who is not afraid to let others in, and Ashlyn is just one door that she’s given us the keys to.