The Last Fall : perfect Agit-Pop

“This is social commentary in rock at it’s very best. You can dance to it and it makes you think.”

The ascension bow out with a posthumous album called “Hierarchy” on 28th November via German Shepherd Records. The duo have crowned an eight year career with an excellent final statement of their work.

As one of the first bands I interviewed on Salford City Radio the pair have always had a special place in my music collection both for the quality of their musical output but for their political/polemical approach to the lyrical content of their releases. I described them as “brutally frank, angry, and politically astute” some years back and things have not changed with this final set of songs.

Mining their back  catalogue to some degree with reworkings of earlier songs the album is an apposite articulation of the Cameron/May era with commentary about Zero Hours contracts, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and an acerbic look at modern urban planning via New Town Utopias.

photo by Craige Barker
photo by Craige Barker

The album kicks off with Neil’s pungent bass riff grabbing the ears on the excellent “Last Fall”, originally on the debut single of the same name from 2009. The circular piano riff and the call and response vocals mark this out as one of the band’s signature tunes. Venomous, driven, and wholly enjoyable, and yes, you can dance to it.

“Precipice” from the 2nd EP Blood Upon The Rose is up next and demonstrates the more measured side of their work, well I say measured, it’s still pretty in your face with layers of synths and guitars carrying the tune to an epic conclusion. There’s post punk, electronica, dance music, industrial music and post-rock all working together in a heady mix.

The excellent “Modern Life Crisis” melds a Jamaican beat with excellent descending picking and chorus which catches the ear. Back to the post punk world for “New Town Utopia” which describes accurately the despair of forgotten communities in modern Britain. Doug’s plaintive piano figures and organic synth sounds are excellent.

“Illusory Nights” is simply beautiful, a testament to their writing ability, with surging synths and a moreish piano riff which is almost Barryesque. The reverb is turned up to ten for a classic tune. “Positivity”, from the bands last release, is all arpeggiators and dance beats, and begs the listener to get up and throw some serious shapes, with a cheeky acid house synth squelch breakdown in the middle for good measure. It’s back to the Jamaican beats for the rather wonderful “Zero Hours” – the stand out line on the album “people who spend more on a bottle of wine than the money I get to live off for one month” sticks in my head given, as I was listening the album I saw the news that Buck House is going to get a £370m make over, at a time when people are sleeping rough on the streets of Salford. People need to listen to these lyrics and start thinking about mobilising to get some changes in this country. Probably the stand out track on the album for me with the boys coalescing what they are about into a perfect piece of agit-pop.

“PTSD” is something different with a fractured counterpoint between vocals/drums and guitar morphing into a wall of sound with a hypnotic industrial feel, perhaps Bauhaus would have sounded like this if they had come from Macclesfield. An exciting music development perhaps indicating where Doug and Neil are going next with  tumbling bass and drums anchoring shards of guitar.

“Tomorrow’s A Conspiracy” feels like a mutant waltz but soon jumps Zappa-like into a different structure and then goes back again to the waltz. Like “PTSD” this is developing new angles and elements to the bands’ work. It gets quite proggy in places and the highest compliment I can give is that I was reminded of Van Der Graaf Generator at their best. The differentiated structure doesn’t cause the momentum to be lost. A triumph.

The lengthy “Captives” concludes this chapter of Doug and Neil’s career. They always say you should close the album on a high and they certainly achieve that with an epic piece which contains all of the best elements of their work.

The album will be available from 28th November at German Shepherd Records Bandcamp page.  All proceeds from the sale of the release will go towards supporting coffee4craig homelessness charity.

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I asked Doug  a few questions about this final release and the way ahead

Why did you decide to end the band?

The time was right to end on a high after the success of our European tour with Mr Heart. The ascension had existed for 8 years and creatively me and Neil felt the need to move on from this format and these songs, the history attached to it, baggage etc. As most people out there making any kind of art will know you live with your endeavours every day and they are a part of your being, your existence, or whatever. We’d changed as people and our music is changing so here ‘The ascension’ ends…….next chapter now!

Will you be working together in the future?

Yes work is in progress as we speak!

Are you planning any other projects in the future individually?

Yes Neil has an acoustic track out under the name ‘The Sombre Watcher’ which I have recorded and mixed. It’s up on Soundcloud . I personally have a lot of heavily electronic experimental dance material I did before The ascension which may be remixed and put out at a later date.

The album is a mixture of older and newer tracks – what was the thinking behind that?

We thought it should reflect our entire catalogue as it’s a posthumous release. Also as the line-up changed from trio to duo the songs and our approach to them changed. The new recordings reflect this. For anyone who’s interested the original versions of songs like ‘Last Fall and ‘Precipice’ are available to download via our bandcamp page. Physical copies (CDs with artwork, lyrics etc) still exist but stocks are running low and we have no intention of pressing anymore.

I heartily recommend you check out this excellent album and contribute to a worthwhile cause at the same time. For my part i’m anticipating what Doug and Neil will come up with next.

PREVIOUS ARTICLES ON THE BAND

Review of the Positivity release

Review of Drowning In The Drought

Interview – 2013

Article in Salford Advertiser

Review of Blood Upon The Rose

Unfortunately my early articles on the band have been lost due to computer malfunction.

LINKS

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Positive Vibes

It has been a good while (well over two years) since we had something new from Doug and Neil of The Ascension. Their new two track single is full of their trade-mark bass driven dance beats mixed with polemical post-punk melodies and vocals.

“Positivity” mixes a very funky bass line, with sprightly beats, synth sounds and the usual twin vocal attack. The message is more upbeat than usual with a call to bring back a more enlightened collective attitude to society. The lead synth is very more-ish and you should be up and about and shaking your booty to the track.

“High Definition” starts slower but moves up the gears over a dirty bass line which has a bit of a rock feel. As usual with the band the unique thing is the mix of the electronic elements of the music with the intense vocals. The change here is the structure of the piece which develops and progresses organically and is one of their best compositions to date.

The band has moved on musically with more variety to the tunes, a greater sense of structure and a more epic feel. It’s great to have them back and the promise of a debut album is made more tempting by these two lead tracks. A short You Tube clip of the band working on the new album reveals some clues as to the changes in approach..

The band play the Old Pint Pot (corner of the Crescent and Adelphi Street, Salford)  on December 18th as part of the Sound Of Salford Charity Event.

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Here Comes The Rain Again

  • So i’ve been professing my love of the work of The Ascension for several years now in the hope that the rest of you lot out there might give them the much deserved support and attention they need.
Ascension
  • In addition I keep running into Doug (Guitar/Keyboards)  and Neil (Bass) at gigs, and keep apologising for missing them live.
  • The latest chapter in the story of the band is the departure of drummer Aaron Sawyer, and having run into them yet again the other Friday whilst watching Bobbie Peru and Mr Heart, I half engaged in a conversation with Doug before Tamsin and Co hit the stage with some venom (which I must get around to reviewing).
  • Anyway Doug dropped me a line the other day as asked if they could do a radio thing with me, and of course I had to explain I don’t “do” radio at the moment, but I do blog and podcast,  so we agreed I would swap some questions with them and they would furnish me with some appropriate audio-visual material to include in a blog about their “work in progress”.
  • So some of the more eagle eyed amongst you may have spotted that a couple of videos entitled “The Rain City Sessions” have just appeared on You Tube/Facebook with Neil on Drums and Doug on keyboards doing  versions of “Another Cold War” and “Last Fall” (see below for those who have not seen them)…..

A VIRTUAL INTERVIEW

Q….. So my immediate thought was what’s happened since Blood Upon The Rose? Aaron leaving etc….and did I sense from the end of the “Another Cold War” video there is a lot of pent up frustration in the band?
  • Doug: What’s happened is we’ve carried on as best we can. We’re continually writing and recording new songs, some will see the light of day, others not. On February 23rd we did a one off gig as a two piece at Creation Cafe, Salford….Great place, great vibe. It was a short set of songs adapted for the stripped down two piece line-up, the synth filling in bass notes and Neil (normally on bass guitar/vox) was on drums/vox for a good portion of it. For the song ‘The Rift’ Neil returned to the bass guitar and we used a drum machine beat as that’s what’s used on the original anyway. As for the frustration……well……that’s just part of life!!!
  •  Neil: The last ten seconds are my favourite bit of that video!
Q. So what are the Rain City Sessions, and have you any new releases coming out soon?
  • Doug: Rain City Sessions is an up close, raw and live online peek into us as a band. ‘Another Cold War’ is the first part of what may continue as more live performances of songs, some of which will be reinterpreted for the sake of practicality or experimentation……There also could be an interview or even a live, online gig….Whatever we feel like basically…..all sent out into cyberspace with love from Hometown Studios, Salford. The imminent new release is a single featuring two songs ‘Drowning In The Drought’ and ‘In a digital arcade’ which were recorded, mixed and mastered by Ding at 6dB Studios also in Salford.
Q. So you are looking for a new drummer. Any joy yet?
  • Doug: We’ve had a few auditions but no joy as yet.
  • Neil: Yeah we need a Pete DeFreitas or Stephen Morris type, creative with bags of stamina!
Q.  I would have thought the current political climate would make good material for you guys ….is this reflected in the new songs?
  • Doug: Possibly either consciously or subconsciously it is reflected in songs. As we were working on part one of the Rain City Sessions the other day we said how funny it is in light of all the media attention on North Korea we are performing a song called ‘Another Cold War’ which was written over a few years ago now!
  •  Neil: No all the new songs are about how great everything is and what a great job the powers that be are doing!?….ok maybe there’s a few cynical ditties on the way.
Q. You guys are avid and regular gig attenders and strong supporters of local bands …..what do you think needs to change about the music industry in the Manchester conurbation?
  • Doug: Having always done things for ourselves as a band I admit I don’t have a great knowledge on the music industry locally or otherwise! The problem is these days with the industry in general is that nobody wants to take a risk. It’s all based on ticket sales, number of online fans, will this lot fill a venue, sell many downloads etc….In other words is it a viable commodity…..And yes I know we all need money but when that’s all it’s about what you get is only bands who are a SAFE bet playing the big stage…..I won’t name them but the other week I saw a band in a venue in Manchester and it was like something off one of those awfull scuzz, rock/metal classic MTV bullshit channels, all slick and well marketed…..devoid of soul! What this city could do with is someone like Tony Wilson who had some celebrity clout, a bit of cash and was willing to take risk after risk simply because he loved music and loved Manchester!…..It’s such a shame that so much great music in Salford let alone the rest of the Manchester area is being overlooked as you well know yourself.
  •  Neil: Stop regurgitating the past is what I say, stop all this revisionist nonsense to make a few quid and instead do something new and challenging, I’m a bit sick of the pat yourself on the back listen to the classics thing Manchester seems to do a lot, all the music industry can think to do now is repackage the past because it’s a safe investment so fuck em, ridicule or even better ban all tribute bands no exceptions ,when did that become an acceptable proposition? I missed that meeting,they’re getting regular income while musicians that write they’re own material get peanuts!

THE DISCOGRAPHY

LAST FALL EP (2009)

Last Fall

NEW RENAISSANCE (2010)

Big Sleep

BLOOD UPON THE ROSE (2012)

Blood Upon

Salford Music Scene 11th September 2012 – Salford Music Festival Preview #3

As with the last two weeks I am previewing some of the 200 acts that are playing Salford Music Festival this year between 20th-23rd September.

Listen to a stream of the show here

1 Dysphonia Distances Who Ate All The Pigeons The Crescent – 22/09/12 – 9pm
2 Kill Pretty Rob A Bank Single The Crescent – 22/09/12 – 10pm
3 The Ascension Precipice Blood Upon The Rose The Crescent – 21/09/12 – 7:30pm
4 Lipstick Traces Cirque De La Mort Demo The Ship – 23/09/12 – 7pm
5 Emma Black Lies Swimming in the Moon The Lowry – 22/09/12 – 6:45pm
6 Fishing for Compliments Murky Water Demo The Drop Inn – 22/09/12 – 7pm
7 The Jar Family In For A Penny The Jar Family The Winston – 22/09/12 – ?
8 Kraul Up In This Piece dB The Ship – 23/09/12 – 5pm
9 My Lyrical Mind Drop Me A  Line Demo Deli Lama – 21/09/12 – 10pm
10 Shauna Mackin Holy Ghost Salford Noise Compilation/Little Blue Ashley Brook – 22/09/12 – 8pm/The Star Inn – 22/09/12 – 10:30pm
11 The Disappeared Eight Miles Down Demo The Hope – 21/09/12 – 8pm
12 The Uncanny Valley Pandemonium Demo The Crescent – 21/09/12 – 10pm
13 Uncle Paul Song About Ducks Demo The Blue Bell – 22/09/12 – 8pm
14 The Fall Cosmos 7 Lap Top Dog Single 20th – Lowry 22nd – Lower Kersal Social Clubs 23rd – Lowry

(Salford) Music Scene Radio Show – June 5th 2012

On this weeks show…..listen here

1 Easter Damp Patch Innocence Man
2 Lauren Housley My Baby Cry One Step Closer
3 The Lazy Maybees Old Ghost Lining Up Spoons
4 The Ascension Blood Upon The Rose Blood Upon The Rose
5 The Black Paths Our North Is Rising Ibiza and the Hangover
6 Twisted Hand Dawning The 1982 Masters
7 The Hamsters Stupid Songs The Disparate Cogniscienti
8 Kill Pretty Stupid Club In 80 Days
9 Danny Short Head in the Sand Remnants
10 Neuron No Limonchik Little Lemon EP
11 Glass Jungle Stay the Same Crystal Lies
12 Periscope Diggin You Out Demo
13 Adesire 60s Film Adesire A History 1980-3
14 The Fall Slags, Slates Etc Slates

And we grow as one……

The Ascension’s third EP “Blood Upon The Rose” – demonstrates a faultless progression from their initial recordings.

Their polemic ridden, sometimes intense, post-punk electronica may not be to everyone’s taste but I find it to be increasingly relevant and entertaining.

Their muscular bass driven approach is never more apparent than on this release – recorded without a drummer the production skills of “Ding” Archer are in full flow here as banks of synthesizers float over busy and insistent rhythms to create a fascinating, and modern collection of tunes. That’s not to say that  guitar does not feature – the last four tracks in the package are replete with intense keening and riffing guitars and feedback.

There most potent release so far lyrically – although I did in the review of the last release “New Renaissance” advise that they were “brutally frank, angry, and politically astute” I have to say things have moved on a tad. Someone needs to articulate the utter despair of our hard hit communities and this band do a damn good job at capturing the anger and hopelessness of life under the chillaxing world of Dave and Nick, and they do it without the obvious political badges, which I find to be particularly appealing. This is social commentary in rock at it’s very best. You can dance to it and it makes you think.

The song construction is altogether more considered and their is light and shade amongst the intensity of delivery which shows a clear development. There is enough variety here to keep even the most jaded audiophile happy.

Many congratulations to Doug and Neil for delivering this excellent package, welcome to Aaron the new drummer,  and kudos to Mr Archer for another excellent piece of production.

Highly recommended!

(Salford) Music Scene – 22nd May 2012

On this weeks show….listen in here

1 Mr Heart Vacuum Head Pre-release
2 The Lazy Maybees Easee Babee Lining Up Spoons
3 Fuschi4 Can’t Hold Out Can’t Hold Out
4 Milk Maid Do Right Mostly No
5 Stella Marconi Cult of Celebrity Aeroplane Blonde
6 The Brakes It’s My City Demo
7 The Ascension Cityscape Blood Upon The Rose
8 Boo & the Crow Men OK In The Morning Demo
9 Danny Short Casinoland Remnants
10 Silence Rises Feeling Clever Single
11 The Mekkits! End of the World Blues Single
12 Clockwork Radio Feel It Up Single
13 English Mutts Albion Summer Demo
14 Wailer Pilot Study Drive Drive
15 Fall Fan Dave and the Laptop Dancers Timelord Waiting To Happen Beat on the Moans
16 The Fall Middlemass Slates

Notes in respect of the above:

  1. From the forthcoming album – they support Martin Rev at the Academy on Saturday 26th May.
  2. Manchester band who have a new album called “Lining Up Spoons”
  3. Salford based blues band – debut album ‘Can’t Hold Out’  available at shows for £10, and they are also selling a 10-track digital version for only £7 at www.fuschi4.bandcamp.com . The band will be playing a few festivals over the coming months, starting with Hebden Bridge Blues Festival,   Main Stage on Saturday 2nd June.  Maryport Blues Festival between 27th – 29th July, and  The Great British Rhythm and Blues Festival in Colne between 24th – 27th August.
  4. Last year, under the name Milk Maid, Martin Cohen released Yucca, a fuzzy, jangling record that switched genres with each track. On one song, the Manchester bedroom artist would paint himself as a 1990s indie rock devotee. On the next, he’d be fingerpicking a quiet, echoing folk song. With “Do Right”, the first track he’s letting go from Mostly No (June 26 in the US, July 9 in the UK via FatCat), the shapeshifting continues. Here, he takes the form of a screeching, reverb-drenched West Coast grunge fan. He sings about California, he bookends the song with feedback, and halfway in, he rips through a tossed off guitar solo. Given his history, it’s fair to wonder if the album will stray from this song’s faux-slacker punk aesthetic.
  5.  This summer, Stella Marconi are releasing their debut album ‘STOP: Await Instructions’ through IMR. They have previously released two EP’s to fantastic receptions, both of which can be found on their SoundCloud page. Playing previous high profile support slots with bands such as ‘The Indecent’ (Warner Bros USA), on their inaugural UK dates, and ‘To Kill A King’ (Virgin), the band are establishing themselves not only on the national, but global music stage.
  6. Manchester band – featured before on the show – this is from their first EP.
  7. As featured previously from the new EP
  8. Acoustic Trio from Hulme- this is their first release.
  9. From the new album – available from Bandcamp – this track shows the more experimental side of Danny’s work.
  10. From Huddersfield which is near enough to count of regionally local – Silence Rises formed in 2010 and set out to write a set of huge anthemic indie tunes.
    Drawing on a rich song writing talent present between all five members, the band continue to focus their style in to well crafted, hook filled, venue filling music with huge towering bursts which take the listener on a dynamic audio journey. Recent highlights include the band being selected by indie legends The Wedding Present to support them on two of their 2011 UK tour dates. The band were also selected by Tim Burgess and a panel of music representatives to play the 2011 Friends of Mine Festival. As a result of these fantastic opportunities and constant gigging around the North of England a real buzz is starting to form around them.
  11. They have been absent for the last couple of years working on their album – but they are back with a flourish. See notes elsewhere on this blog.
  12. Lead single from the new EP Ubuntu. Currently gigging in Denmark but will be back for dates in Manchester in early June.
  13. Another class piece of pop from the Moston pooches.
  14. Received an intriguing package from this Manchester based duo. The Wailer Pilot Study – Stephen (Vocals/Bass/Keys/Samples) and Kieran (Vocals/Guitar/Beats/) favour drum loops over a live drummer and huge, dirty guitars over jangly indie tones. The sound of the WAILER PILOT STUDY is an Electronic/Cinematic/Rock mix. All instruments are played live by the 2 members.
  15. Preview track from the forthcoming album “Beat on the Moans”.
  16. A classic track from a classic release.