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