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Weekend Wig-Out: Extreme compression

5 Feb 11 | Re: Time-distorting mostly musical frenzy

Some songs have the ability to stretch or compress time. For example, if you listen to Seal’s Kiss From A Rose, you may begin to wonder which will end first, the song or the universe. Then you look at the clock and realise it’s only been going on for 45 earth seconds.

Given this powerful property, it’s no surprise that songs don’t always need to obey general conventions with regard to length. If you decide to listen to a wig-out, you expect to be in for at least eight and probably more than ten minutes of intermittently directioned musical exploration. Usually, that expectation would be justified. But this week’s wig comes from a band of musical alchemists who have managed to bend time to their will and cram some serious wigging almost - almost - into the kind of time-frame more often associated with a standard song.

Innocent Smile by Ash     Follow along for yourself

This somewhat unconventional wig-out appears on the 1977 album, the band’s full debut. The rule-bending starts with its positioning - it’s track nine out of twelve, so there is ample time for more peaks and troughs after it finishes; indeed, the very next track, Angel Interceptor, provides no let-up and is one of the album’s genuine highlights. What’s more, the song’s total length is a little under six minutes; are we sure it’s actually a wig-out at all? Well, let’s see.

The song starts with twenty-one seconds of formless noise - some feedback and distortion, and some wibbly noises that could be electronic but are probably caused by the feedback interacting with one guitar effect or another. This is important, as it warns the listener that not all the sounds that follow may be strictly musical. This overture complete, the first verse jumps straight in with no formal introduction, and at a brisk pace. Never a band to lack energy, the first two verses and choruses are dispatched in just over a minute without pause for breath.

While they are being dispatched, the noise from the introduction begins to rear its head again. Even the latter stages of the first verse are underpinned by some skronky guitar that doesn’t seem to have that much to do with the conventions of orthodox harmony. Once the second verse is underway, the sleeping beast begins to wake and the skronk is joined by a rising tide of distorted sludge. But the song is still holding together.

At the end of the second chorus the tune changes slightly and the astute listener will sense that the verse-chorus stage of the song is at an end. The sludge rises further as the vocals end, and then - the music stops. And immediately starts to build up again. The bass player takes a break and the guitar and drums start building up the tension in a classic wig-out quiet bit that lasts most of a minute. Drums bash, amps protest and the feedback and fizzing gradually re-enter the mix; until, still just three minutes into the song, phase three is entered - a proper, instrumental, rock-out section. Here, a lot of bands might start to solo, but Ash stick with their riff and instead get faster and faster.

This is the real wigging bit. The wah pedal comes in, the feedback is higher than ever and the tempo cranks up at least five separate times until, inevitably, the whole thing falls apart. All instrumentation is abandoned as the track collapses into pure noise. They don’t milk it though - after around half a minute of scratching about the first verse comes back for a slower and somewhat menacing reprise. The measured, stalking pace puts me in mind of a lean, fierce beast that has mutated into a prowling, shadowy monster. Tim’s little laugh in the last line, just before the final fuzzing chord, doesn’t lessen the menace.

What’s happening after three and a half minutes, when the top-ten popstrel is hammering her chorus home? Ash are pushing and pushing the tempo as people start to leave on stretchers.

Time to rate this wig-out:

Total wig-out points: 21

That’s the lowest score so far, but not a bad shout. If they’d played the whole thing at half the speed they might have topped the table - but that wouldn’t be Ash, would it?

Posted by ALEXANDRA CREWE at 14:08

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