Introduction: Welcome back to the ever-edgy Ashbury Heights. Oh boy did we have fun last time with the abundance of edge to uncomfortable limits. Thankfully, Ashbury Heights’ edge is a bit more tolerable this time around so this review should go a little bit more smoothly. Anyways, there’s no point in wasting an excessive amount of time introducing the duo as I think I did a pretty good and thorough job in the last review. Let’s get on with the music.
Ashbury Heights – Morningstar in a Black Car (5.5): Starting off with the title track I see. Actually, this is interestingly the only album in their discography to have a title track (unless they decide to prove me wrong sometime in the next few years). My opinion of this song is fairly similar to Bare Your Teeth, the introductory song of the last album: mostly due to its cryptic lyrics. The music itself is an improvement though, but that might be partly because the piano has more character than the unremarkable synth from the first. The bassline in this one is a bit of a disappointment and I’m afraid it does make this song a bit blander than I’d like. But that’s not too much of a problem as Ashbury Heights have the capability of adding some good lyrics to their songs to save something that would otherwise get an average rating.
Except when they’re cryptic like this. I could sum up what’s said in this song in a few bullet points, so I’ll do exactly that.
- Verse 1. Ander describes himself with a few edgy™ adjectives
- Verse 2: More edginess concentrating on nihilism and resigning to suffering
- Chorus: Just says the title of the song and I have no idea what it means.
Regardless, the lyrics are too vague to glean any real meaning (and the song suffers because of it), so I think I’m just going to move on to the next song.
Ashbury Heights – Spiders (7.5): This was actually my first Ashbury Heights song (though it was a group effort of some songs off of The Looking Glass Society that really got me into them). Spiders continues the trend of Ashbury Heights nihilism. And like usual for this album in particular, the song definitely has some cryptic lines. I mean, the main theme of the song is clearly about the never-ending passage of time, always marching forward as we near closer and closer to our own ends. That much is clear. But I have no idea how this relates to the duo’s apparent distaste for crawling spiders. That’s fair. spiders are a bit creepy. I do relate a tiny bit too much to the rest of the song. Partly because I have a habit of planning way too many projects for myself, so even at 22 I’m already worried about my mortality. Probably over worrying myself, but it’s there.
The music is a bit of a step up from Morningstar in a Black Car. The bassline is definitely a couple steps higher, the melodies are a bit more memorable, and there’s a bit more depth to the song in general. Also, it does help that I find most of the vocals in this version to be a bit catchy compared to the monotone Morningstar.
Oh, this one also has a music video so I guess that could be worth mentioning. I’m not the hugest fan of most music videos. Usually, it’s because the video sometimes contradicts the vibe I imagine when first listening to the song. This one kind of works, as it does seem to focus on fleeting mortality, assigning countdowns to all of the people appearing in the video. Countdown to their death I presume. Then again, that means that Yasmine and Anders die at the end of the music video as they approach one another. Eh, it’s not the worst video I’ve ever seen. The general message is still there. The aesthetic is just a slight bit more edgy than I prefer. It’s honestly not all that flattering, but music videos don’t contribute to the score anyway, so this is really just an extra little thing to look at if you don’t mind a low budget edgy music video.
Ashbury Heights – Die by Numbers (8.25): Die By Numbers is one of the two upbeat originals on the album along with World Coming Down. Interestingly both songs have to do with how bleak the future is. They also both have an interesting variety of instruments used within the song. This one in particular has the best bassline on the album. There’s a smoother bouncier feel to it, and it’s always rising and falling in pitch unlike the more monotone basslines of the last two songs.
There’s also a fair number of synths in the song to keep the song in a constant state of variety. Most of them are quite enjoyable. There are some simple melodies in the first part of the verse and some stabs in the second part of the verse. However, there’s also a slightly scratchier… noise that comes into play along with that first melody. It’s the worst part of the song unfortunately, but the quality of the rest of the song, thankfully isn’t brought down because of it. It’s not even really that bad. I’m just slightly mixed on whether or not I dislike it. A similar synth appears in the chorus as the main, melodic hook of the song, but I think the melody helps make it a little more palatable.
Ok, looking at these lyrics, I’d like to offer some constructive criticism to Ashbury Heights’ method of hygiene when it comes to their hygiene. Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve always found that a good helping of soap and water can really get the grit and grime off the hands. I don’t frequently bathe my hands in blood, but when I do, I find it stains my hands more than anything. But then again maybe I’m doing it wrong because that only happens when I accidentally (important word to include concerning the last album) cut my finger. Does it work better when you use someone else’s blood? I’m not sure if I feel like testing. It doesn’t sound like it would work.
Oh wait. Silly old me. It’s probably a metaphor for how societal trends continually make the future look bleaker and bleaker. We live in a world filled with mistrust, division and violence. From what I see, it hasn’t gotten much better. Every day we move through our lives, not knowing what to do in order to reverse this trend. It’s so easy to resign to a mindset where you just assume society is flawed and can’t be fixed. And maybe it’s true. But maybe not. Maybe this division and mistrust can be turned around, provided that new generations commit to avoid following their ancestors.
In the meantime, our inaction only guarantees the bleak future this song predicts.
Ashbury Heights – Smile (7): A sickening feeling builds in my gut as I hear this love song begin playing, but that’s only because I’m reminded of the toxic nature of Three Cheers for the Newlydeads and I shudder in fear for the edginess that I’d expect from Ashbury Heights. There’s only one love song on this album (two I guess if you really want to count the remixes as separate songs) and it’s thankfully much better than any of the songs on the last album. No toxicity. No suicidal thoughts. Just a nice heartwarming song about adoration of his love’s smile. The lyrics are definitely a bit better in tone. Sure, it does sound like the singer is a bit timid in expressing how much his love means to him. It is Ashbury Heights after all. The song has to have at least the tiniest bit of edge. But timidity is a much more relatable issue to me, and I believe a relationship with a bit of timidity can still work.
As for music, there isn’t an excessive amount to talk about. The melodies kind of blend in with the arp which sounds like it could be a bad thing, but I feel like it works well with the flow of the song. The bassline is subtle but definitely present, though it’s kind of hard to judge how good it is, seeing as I just listened to Die by Numbers and comparing this song with that one just isn’t quite fair. But all comparisons aside, the song works well for what it is.
Ashbury Heights – World Coming Down (6.5): Alright let’s see if I have any bleak future existentialism left after Die by Numbers. Because World Coming Down is once again quite bleak and yet quite upbeat at the same time. In fact, I’d argue that it takes both of these aspects to greater extremes in comparison to Die by Numbers.
Starting off with the music, it only takes a mere 5 seconds for this song to kick into full overdrive at BPM soaring above 200. This is admittedly a bit excessive and I’d be a tiny bit more into it if the drum design was a bit better, but that snare doesn’t work very well when played that frequently. There are some points where the song dies down a bit to slower BPMs but it’s not a common occurrence. I’m not going to hold this too much against the song. Snares are kind of tricky to do after all, but I feel like this song would’ve done just fine as a kick. That’s just the drumbeat though the rest of the melodies are plenty energetic enough to fit that BPM. Whenever they are able to get the spotlight like at the very beginning of the song, the outro or any other point in the song where the snare isn’t dominating my attention. Unfortunately, that just isn’t often enough. Admirable concept, but the snare ruins it all.
How about them lyrics though. They are about bleak futures, right? I seem to have implied that much. And the song is called World Coming Down after all, so that doesn’t sound like the dup has the highest hopes for our future. Well, this song is incredibly clear about what it has to say and incredibly vague the rest of time. The only clear thing is that one only has to look around them to see that this world is deteriorating. The signs are everywhere. That much is clear. What’d not clear is what Anders sings of in the verses. There’s a lot of distorted religious imagery with repeated mentions of heaven, Lucifer, crucifixion and likely some others that are seeping under my radar. But what does it all mean? My only possible assumption is that the distorted religious imagery refers to how anything in this good has been distorted beyond comprehension into the mess that we find ourselves lost in. That’s kind of profound. I think I’m going to go with that. Still not fully certain though. Songs like this and Stormbringer from the last album are just impossible to figure out sometimes. Thank goodness I don’t have to review that one ever again
Ashbury Heights – Stormbringer (Aerial remix) (6.5): Wait…
So, the second half of this album is a small collection of remixes. What’s annoying is that both Spotify and the Youtube playlist I linked don’t display these songs any differently than their original counterparts. Only immediate visible difference is that this song in particular has different album art on its face (seeing as its origin comes from Three Cheers for the Newlydeads). Thankfully, with some digging I was able to find a track listing with some more details on where exactly these remixes originate from and have therefore been able to add the remixer on to the end of the title to help differentiate them from the original. This won’t help you when listening to the album in either of the linsk I provided, but perhaps it will help slightly in the second half of this review.
I find remixes to be a little bit trickier to review. Listening to this song in a vacuum it’s pretty alright, not too much different from what I’d rated the original. There’s a reason for that. This remix is almost exactly the same as the original. Let’s go ahead bullet point the differences
- Intro is 5 seconds longer
- Bridge is 5 seconds shorter
- Verses bring the choirs more into the forefront of the song, which I enjoy.
That’s it. There’s really not much for me to say here that I haven’t already said in the original review. If you want to know my opinion of the lyrics check out what I said on the Three Cheers for the Newlydeads review. This is an example of the most disappointing type of remix. So little changes, that if you don’t compare the songs side by side you won’t notice much of a difference. This version is slightly better musically, but it’s such a slight improvement, I’m not sure if I really want to change the rating.
Ashbury Heights – Spiders (UnterART remix) (8): Spiders on the other hand is the good kind of remix. Instead of doing next to nothing with the song. UnterART adds his own unique spin on the song. And I say that this version is the better one of the two. Lyrics and vocals share the same vibe as last time, so I won’t go over them again, but the music is entirely different and it’s definitely an improvement.
The other version of Spiders was pretty good, but it was still lacking in some of the categories that this version excels in. The bassline in particular is noticeable throughout the song. In the original, the bassline was only a couple steps up from the titular song. Here however, the bassline improves a couple steps even higher with its smoother groove. In addition, there’s also a fantastic 15 section that stands out as one of the best moments in the entire album, excluding anything that happened in Die by Numbers. The original version of course, not the…
Ashbury Heights – Die By Numbers (Agonize remix) (2.25): Oh dear. This is unfortunate. Guess we can say goodbye to Yasmine because, Agonize decided she wasn’t worthy of this remix. Instead they decided to replace her with their own gritty pseudo-screamo vocals in the chorus. I’m sure some people are into this, but like I said in the last Ashbury Heights review, I have a limit to my edge. And overly gritty vocals can really ruin a song. Case in point. The verses aren’t as bad as the chorus. They have more of a distorted technological feel to them (think Mind.in.a.box but not nearly as good. These vocals just blend into the background and is barely noticeable).
I’d go more in depth with the music itself, but it’s so uninteresting, I can’t figure out anything to say about it except how it’s incredibly disappointing seeing as the original version is the best song on the entire album. This low point unfortunately brings the album down a notch. I’d rather pretend it doesn’t exist, but I’d be deluding myself.
Ashbury Heights – Smile (Marsheaux remix) (7): Our final remix for the album is a fairly decent one. It has a slightly different tone from the original and therefore is able to stand out unlike the Stormbringer remix. However, it isn’t necessarily an improvement like the Spiders remix (or an awful downgrade like that Die By Numbers remix). It’s really on the same level as the original, just with a focus om some new aspects.
For example, if we start with the bassline, it’s clearly a bit more prominent in this version, allowing for a slightly bouncier feel. Progressing onwards to the leads of the song we have one synth playing a slow-paced melody and the other playing lines upon lines of quick staccato notes. That second synth is used the most within the song, staying present throughout the whole vibe, while the other one is really only important at the beginning and the end. Instead the majority of the song replaces that melody with some variation on the bassline here and there.
Like I said, this is overall a fine remix. It definitely has a different vibe compared to the original, but it’s equally as good.
Conclusion: Overall, this album is a bit better than Three Cheers for the Newlydeads. There aren’t quite as many strong songs on this one, but the only bad song we have here is the one remix that ruined the best song on the album. Overall, that’s definitely an improvement. Still has the edge that seems to be an integral part of Ashbury Hearts style, but this one doesn’t go nearly as dark. No fantasizing about suicide and self-harm here. Just contemplating crippling mortality and the bleak future that society faces. Much more uplifting!
Also, worth noting is that this is Yasmine’s second and last album accompanying Anders as the female singer of Ashbury Heights. Of the three females to be part of the duo so far, Yasmine is likely my least favorite. She’d left following this album in favor of working on her modeling career. Fine by me. The vocalists improve as time goes on. I’ll talk more about them when they’re introduced.
But regardless of Ashbury Heights transitioning out of one age and into another, Morningstar in a Black Car turns out to be a quite good album. There’s a dip in quality here and there (Can you say Agonize?), but that doesn’t prevent the album from getting a score well above average.
Final Score: (6.5)