Ashlar – St James’ Gardens

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The second album by Ashlar, my collaborative project with Phil Edwards (PJE), is out now on Hibernate Recordings.

Ashlar is the collaborative project of Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards. Although Wil is from Essex and now living in London, he lived in Liverpool for several years, during which time he met and began working with Phil, who lived nearby. Wil Bolton is no stranger to hibernate having released two albums, Time Lapse in 2010 and Under A Name That Hides Her in 2012, as well the postcard ep Silver in 2012. In addition Wil has recorded for Home Normal, Time Released Sound, Rural Colours and Cathedral Transmissions. For his solo outings, Phil Edwards records under the PJE guise and has releases on Cathedral Transmissions, U-Cover and Twisted Tree Line. Together as Ashlar they’ve recorded one other album, Saturday Drones which came out on Time Released Sound back in 2012.

Recorded over several Saturday afternoon sessions, the duo’s second album, St James’ Gardens, began with and was inspired by field recordings made in and around the Liverpool park of the same name. This long, narrow park and cemetery nestles below ground level behind Liverpool Cathedral. Although the tracks are largely improvised, the rough sketches created by the collection of field recordings were later worked on in Wil’s nearby studio using a combination of hardware and software. The duo processed acoustic and electric guitars, electric piano and analogue synthesizer using guitar pedals, loopers and laptop to create an atmospheric collection of tracks which change the everyday sounds of a city park into something new.

Released by Hibernate Recordings on limited edition CD and download, 14 February 2014

Mixed by Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards
Mastered by Wil Bolton
Cover photo by Katie English

Reviews

“Unlike other parts of the world, winter did not really come to The Netherlands (yet). Very mild, lots of sunshine: my kind of weather really. But today is rainy and windy, and yet I won’t complain: it’s not icey and cold and the postman delivered some fine soundtrack to go with this weather. Music from the label Hibernate is always something to look forward to. It’s not the most avant-garde label in the world, as many of their releases explore a similar field: that of ambient, drones and field recordings – ‘We Like Ambient’ is their motto. Here we have the project of Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards, known as Ashlar. They met when Wil lived in Liverpool for a while. He recorded two previous albums for Hibernate and also for Home Normal, Time Released Sound, Rural Colours and Cathedral Transmissions, whereas Edwards works as PJE and has releases on Cathedral Transmissions as well as U-Cover and Twisted Tree Line. This is their second release as Ashlar. This new album uses sounds recorded in St James’ Gardens in Liverpool, a ‘long, narrow park and cemetery nestles below ground level behind Liverpool Cathedral’ and Bolton’s nearby studio they improvised with acoustic and electric guitars, electric piano and analogue synthesizer using guitar pedals, loopers and laptop. Extensively spaced out music in which we hear those field recordings, rather untreated it seems, wind, birds, far away traffic, and on top as well as on the bottom we hear spacious tunes played on their instruments. Slow, minimal and majestic, as statuesque as possible in ‘Monuments’ (well chosen title). That’s the shortest piece. The other two are much longer and more open in approach. Here the improvised form is very clear, and ‘mistakes’ (could they be called as such?) are not edited out, but left in. That makes this album a very human album, of very personal music. You don’t discover something new in here, but that’s not what you were looking for anyway, I think. Great mood music.” – Vital Weekly

“Ah its about time I got an ambient album to get my head around. This is the second full length collaboration between Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards. Wil has had several solo releases out on Hibernate and Time Released Sound whilst phil under the moniker PJE, has recorded on Cathedral Transmissions, Twisted Tree Line etc. This collaboration is based around field recordings they made in the titular Liverpool park.

Now, if its ok with you I’m going to start at the end. The final track here, ‘The Oratory’ is an absolute stand out. It blends haunting analogue drones, with more code type bleeps and the most wonderful guitar figures which ebb in and out of the mix. Underneath there are subtle acoustic pluckings which provide a haunting bedrock. Its a near perfect form of ambience with marries the dark chilling atmospheres of Windy and Carl and Labradford with the more minimal lush soundscapes that the Hibernate label specialises in. Thirteen minutes in, and I’m slowly drifting into another world, one dominated by the sight of gently waving cornfields.

Back to the front and opener ‘Winding Nature’ utilises field recordings of traffic and wind and places some random and evocative keyboards  on top before some processed guitar adds a kind of Celer type atmosphere. ‘Monuments’ is another track which recalls the late Labradford with twangy heavily affected guitar under which nestles the sound of seagulls and waves.

Overall a really evocative and varied three tracker, the gorgeous closing track, however,elevates the release onto another level entirely.” – Norman Records

“Adjoining Liverpool Cathedral, St James’ Gardens started life as a quarry, then a cemetery and in its present incarnation, a park. It’s also a sound source for the recording of the same name by Ashlar – Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards, released through Hibernate. In some ways the albums title is a coming home to their namesake, Ashlar being either a form of fine masonry, or a freemason who has learned the teachings and become a fine example of the realised mason. Fine masonry here insofar as the musical pieces fit together perfectly – it’s a cohesive flowing work, imbued with a suspended stateliness; an artform honed – more realised? In light of their previous release through Time Released Sound, Saturday Drones, it makes sense,‘Drones being more a collection of sketches, perhaps a musical orientation.

Winding Nature opens the album, a slow pulsing drone circled by some lovely analogue electric piano that lends quite a retro sound, bringing to mind Riders on the Storm’s intro and Chick Corea’s quieter moments on  Return to Forever, say, Crystal Silence. But this music’s unfolding doesn’t demand the latter touchstones evolution, it stays within the quietude. Theres some beautiful location ambiences, from  shooshing traffic, wind and a child’s cry here, and again later. Footsteps cross the soundfield at one point, and I wonder, is this a form of rendering ordinary sounds with musical filigree, a  form of honoring the everyday. It’s sound as poetry no doubt. It closes with footsteps.

Then rain, and gulls, we know we’re in another part of the world the gulls here are melancholy, not brash and squawking like their antipodean  kin. They open Monuments with guitar strike echoes slowly decaying, and I’m referencing Mark Beazeley. Amongst the Field recordings are sounds of indistinct human activity, treated horns from the traffic – or manipulated chords. Crackle, traffic and over.

The Oratory, understated pitch bends, guitar chimes, unrealised key stop/starts – internal music, contrasting from the exterior location pieces prior. It states its sense of place from the outset and relys on the musicians remembrance, their worship perhaps, to the song makers – their instruments. The tones here caress, their gentleness offering a space of calm, of contemplation and a leaving.” – Periwinkle Hear and Now

“There are drones cast above the field recordings of “Winding Nature” are like pylon wires overseeing an autumnal suburbia; dipping and rising in trapezoidal chords, laced like a spider’s web over the declarative yelps of children playing, and the distant traffic noise that crossfades elegantly with the brittle trees hissing in the wind. The instruments feel the soundscape and the soundscape feels back, and while the “real world” sounds on the record undoubtedly breathe obliviously to the musicality would later be draped over the top, Ashlar conjures the illusion of mutual awareness – the sense that those electronic drops are chimes answering the wind, and the sense that the voice of the suburban park dips to a whisper when the emotion thickens, as if listening toSt James’ Gardens’ peaks of glisten and coherence.

The album structure feels like a lop-sided palindrome. The coastal, 5-minute blank of “Monuments” – reverse guitars and seagulls casting shadows on a vacant beach – sits like a transitional void between odes to a vibrant life that wilts with merciless patience. “The Oratory” feels like a lone contemplation; birdsong recedes to let internalised thought brew in the foreground, while a mixture of patient open strums and crooked electronic beeps bring to mind derailed trains of thought, starting tentatively upon one strand of mellow introspection before forgetfully fading into daydream. I hear the faint memories of metronomic hospital life support and the rustles of an adjusted coat, nudging my meditation off balance like a dandelion in a breeze. I am like a troubled mind at rest, feeling the gentle sways of preoccupation in the space where an absolute stillness wishes to be.” – ATTN:Magazine

“Both explorative visitors and resident Liverpudlians have maybe experienced the peacefully beautiful setting of St.James cemetery nearby Anglican Cathedral in Merseyside, where you can easily relax and enjoy the surrounding grandeur of nature and history: Liverpool’s first public park was originally a quarry, but its secluded and somewhat cloistered position which could inspire relax, ravishing and daydreaming contemplation was supposedly known by those who named t.James hill Mount Zion. Its maze-like amalgam of arbours, gravestones, Victorian monuments, recesses and tunnels inspired this lovely release by Ashlar, the collaborative project by Wil Bolton and Phil Edwards, who combined field recordings grabbed inside and nearby St.James’ Gardens and instrumental brush strokes, which got recorded at Cathedral Chambers. They managed to render a sonic virtual tour in the gardens by highlighting the emotional inferences and even historical memories: the initial “Winding Nature” emphasizes the wind gusts which blow into gardens and seems to recall the windmills at the edge of the quarry by means of billows of acoustic and electric guitar and graceful electronics, but then the enchanted sonic ablutions seem to respectfully crouch on the following “Monuments” by making an ideal connections between gravestones, memorials and more or less illustrious buried people by feeding cogitations whose sacredness got rendered by sunken guitar phrasing. This virtual tour ends on “The Oratory”, where quiet synth-bubbles and soothing arpeggios mix sonic inputs up with Neoclassical architecture of the Oratory while descendants of Liver Bird supposedly try to socialize with Tracey Emin’s little bronze bird!” – Chain DLK

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