Ben Asbury, who records as Axxa / Abraxas, writes killer tunes. There are 10 of them on his new record. Axxa is a solo ‘project’ that’s found a suitable home on the ever-eclectic, ever-influential Captured Tracks label hailing out of Brooklyn NY. He writes some of the catchiest music ever committed to tape, all while drawing from a seemingly inexhaustible well of retro musical ideas and textures.
If Asbury made this record in ’67, it would easily find a place on Rolling Stone’s Top 500 album chart; such is its beauty and genuine pop sparkle. But therein lies the problem – most of the sounds, ideas and glittering moments here can be found on records near – or indeed at – the summit of that hallowed countdown. He draws on entry-level retro pop to infuse his songs with a sunny, summery feel that’s sure to entertain the red-eyed, the dry-throated or the simply happy citizens that chance upon his tunes.
It’s worth mentioning that albums like Strange Days, Sunshine Superman and Surrealistic Pillow are pop records – records made for general adoration and extensive public consumption, things they excelled at. They weren’t made to be adopted by long-hairs and retro-revivalists 45 years later; they were made to provide an instantaneous thrill, to entertain the ever-expanding group of stir-crazy baby boomers and original counter-culturalists that had read Kerouac and wanted to experience the danger of the unknown on their new record players. That context is missing from Axxa / Abraxas, but the record doesn’t suffer without it. It’s worth your time, rest assured.
Opener Ryan Michalak (Is Coming To Town) was first released on a cassette at the tail-end of 2012, and presented as part of this collection it sets the tone for the lysergic trip the listener is about to embark on. The acid-trip organ and shimmering guitar marry together in a suitably nostalgic fashion, lain as they are across a simple, driving rhythm. The fairground-ride Manzarek organ on I Almost Fell is sublime, adding a touch of carnival bliss to a cosy, familiar psych vibe. Check out the ‘oo-oo-oohs’, staccato chords and choppy rhythm of Ride Into The Night for more evidence of his excellent magpie tendencies.
You may not know it now, kids, but guitars were a big deal in the ’60s. Just listen to the squalling guitar that runs throughout So Far Away. It’s tonally perfect, as is the spidery, Robby Krieger-aping guitar line on closer All That’s Passed. The country-rock plod and jingling guitar of Going Forth evokes Gene Clark and is a showcase for Asbury’s Mountain-Dew-sweet vocal timbre. Painted Blue’s lush, Laurel Canyon air is enhanced by a monstrously entertaining solo – not to mention the wah-wah rhythm guitar undulating beneath it. It’s the kind of track that needs a guitar solo – no authentic ’60s jam is complete without one. The buoyant, tender rock of the track proper and Asbury’s sumptuous vocal make the track breeze by like patchouli smoke.
The pastoral psych of Same Signs has a touch, a smidge, a hint of post-rock about it; such is the widescreen, kaleidoscopic air Asbury generates. It’s the most reflective gem on the record, but at two and a half minutes, it stops short of being the pick of the bunch.
Picking a highlight is like picking a favourite child, but On The Run is a corker. The double-tap kick drum and Donovan-esque pump and thrust of the bass invite the listener to don tie-dye and spontaneously utter ‘groovy, man, groovy’. It’s loose, hazy and hip as hell – a real barnstormer to shake the cobwebs out of your matted beard.
Sure, it’s derivative. Okay, it’s unoriginal. That’s the idea. However, the records he’s sourced his sounds from are impeccable choices, and there’s not that pervading vibe of ‘why bother?’ that some listeners found hard to take about the Foxygen or Temples records. It’s the kind of acid-pop that would have Wavy Gravy’s enthusiastic support – there’s not one sinister note on the entire collection. Highly engaging and tactfully succinct, Axxa / Abraxas is one to share with your friends and lovers, a soundtrack to your groovy summer. Dig it!