Friday, April 10, 2015
ASG - Blood Drive
When I find myself enjoying a new album, my brain likes to index it according to what I might do while listening. Would I go running to this? Scream along while driving? Play it softly in the background while reading comics? With so much new music out there, I need to determine pretty quickly how a record will fit into my life. And my absolute top, best-of-the-best rating, what Pulp Fiction, Die Hard and Dark City are to my movie collection, is, “I’d listen to this while walking through the city on a gray, chilly evening, imagining myself as an inhabitant of some futuristic, post-apocalyptic urban landscape.” Yes, it’s extremely specific, but I’ll tell you this: if a piece of music has what it takes to secure that categorization in my personal ranking system, I’ve found a winner. This is stuff that, if I could time-travel, I'd go back to 1981 and beg Ridley Scott to let me score Blade Runner with. A few such recordings that reside in that canon for me are Ball of Molten Lead by Yob, rockets fall on Rocket Falls by Godspeed You! Black Emperor, and In Fiction by Isis.
At least three songs on ASG’s Blood Drive (Avalanche, Day’s Work, and the title track) make that cut, which is saying a lot. I've also owed ASG a review since 2013. That summer, a few weeks after interviewing singer Jason Shi for a planned writeup on a new online music resource, my iPad with the interview recording on it was stolen. I replaced it, but by then the record wasn't new anymore, plus my publication channel had pivoted from a music site into a hub for online multimedia collages that lost me at "multimedia," then lost me again at "collages."
Blood Drive is two years old, but you'd never know it, which is one of ASG's strengths‒2007's Win Us Over still has its fresh-from-the-factory sheen, too. The notable difference between the albums are that Win Us Over was more of a straight-ahead rocker, whereas Blood Drive takes its time with a slower, thicker texture and some ethereal moments. Crushing, mid-tempo behemoths are broken up by quieter sections and searing, knockin’-on-the-sky solos.
Shi himself is the most distinctive thing about ASG. He began his frontman journey in snarling/shouting punk territory, but made the conscious decision to add clean-sung vocal melodies to offset the band’s massive riffage. It’s fortunate that he did, because he has one of the purest upper-register voices I’ve ever heard cutting across such sludgy foundations.
I feel like this band gets overlooked a bit, maybe in favor of their grittier cousins Red Fang or Torche, the latter of whom even Shi agrees has pretty much perfected the synthesis of soaring vocal harmonies and driving riff-dirges. He's selling his own band short, though, if he doesn't think they're in the same league.
Blood Drive's twelve tracks cruise from warm Carolina blacktops to bleak concrete-and-steel dystopias. They pummel you with glorious volume, gently help you to your feet, then crush your ass again. It’s rustbelt America meets the used-universe future, simultaneously cathartic and transcendent. I'm just glad I finally got the chance to write about it.