Uh…what? Painted Garden is strange, and in this instance, "strange" means "an odd, unique, and intensely different listening experience." Of course, such a description really doesn't quite capture just how much I like the peculiar sounds on this record. It's a little jazz, it's a little psych, it's a little folk, it's a little rock, but it's not really any of these things. I've never heard Ashley's main band Gris Gris, or his band The Mirrors, but now I want to, because if this record is the sound of him by himself, I'd like to hear him with a band--hell, I just want to hear MORE! Many of these songs are long, but they're not at all monotonous, and the record feels rather short, because once you start to get into it, it's over. But there's plenty to love: the funky jazz of "Fisher King" to the wonderful folk sing-along "Won't Be Long," the sad, heartbreaking "Room 33," the trippy space-country of "Amnesia," and a wonderful reworking of a Gris Gris song, the rather straightforward, utterly catchy "Corporation Station Agent." The other songs are great, too, but I won't mention them, because, well, I don't want to give away the surprises in store when you listen to them!
So many bands and artists try to blend and imitate records by 60s obscurities and 70s drug casualties with modern recording technologies, in hopes of making a modern classic "lost-gem" of psych-rock. Ashley has succeeded and exceeded all such expectations. As lazy as it is to say "This record doesn't sound like anything you've ever heard," Painted Garden really doesn't, because, well, this record works on so many levels. His songs tap into emotions and feelings of sorrow and loss. It's also a record that's quite innovative, because he's blending traditional music together in very subtle ways, creating a sound that's both warmly familiar and hauntingly weird.
I've been tempted to interview Mr. Ashley, but I'm hesitant to do so, because part of me doesn't really want to know what went into making this wonderful album. Sometimes it's best to keep your enigmas mysterious. I seriously doubt you'll hear a record that's as weird or as wonderful as Painted Garden this year. And thank God for that...
Labels: Birdman Records, Greg Ashley, Painted Garden