Imagine stumbling into Gordon Ashworth/Concern/Oscillating Innards material this late in the game. I am late both in 2014 and in life. The first time hearing Gordon's longing, fully-fleshed out drone-based music was last month when I saw Gordon and Work/Death play an incredibly moving set at Rake's End in Cincinnati, OH. What started as just another weekday noise show turned out to be an introduction to oeuvre of work that displays musicality rarely present in drone-based or drone-adjacent music.
S.T.L.A came out back in April after Ashworth's most notable project, Concern, shut its doors after a string of highly regarded records. Ashworth's latest project shares certain commonalities with the music put out under Concern's moniker but with Ashworth's inherent musical talent is pushed to the forefront. At times, these instrumental passages are bare-boned and naked, often, however, they are abstracted and manipulated, notes stretched into shivering, excited particles responding to electrical impulses or laid flat as an EKG meter carrying the ghost of tonality hovering somewhere above. This is especially true on a song like "Suite for Broken Sex" which starts with a lush piano piece before gradually being deconstructed piece-by-piece into the most elemental mechanical operations. Metal string vibration muffled by thick oak. Amps as receivers - interloping on someone's private cell phone call.
"To Be the Man I want To Be" is a rich, long-playing melodic banjo piece flurrying desperately picked lines over a cicada hum of mechanical sounds, manipulated field recordings, ghostly double images of itself. Ashworth's work as an overnight taxi driver puts him in contact with some of the shadier elements of our society. Ashworth has done field recordings in hospital parking garages in the dead of night. Here he often draws in snippets of conversations with Portland's denizens of the night. The resulting ambient passages feel a bit spooked and always on edge. That works for Ashworth's compositions. He will often pair plaintive piano, banjo or guitar lines (in the album closer "Desperate and Indebted") with sounds that are always looking over their shoulders knowing they aren't alone. Darkness creeping under slits in the doorway.
The title of this album is an acronym for "Seeing Life Through Absence". In the loss of a loved one or the loss of faith, readjustment is often a circular process. Momentary forgetting and crushing reminders. Ashworth's latest album can often move me into both modes. This is isn't escapist music. But rather a mechanism to help you stay rooted into whatever mental space you've clawed for yourself amidst constant longing.