ASHAN “Death Is New Life” C45 (Heavy Mess)

It seems like we write something new about Sean Conrad or Inner Islands or Channelers or Orra or what have you all the time around here at Cassette Gods, but the Oakland-based musician/label honcho is simply too prolific to ignore for any length of time. Not that you’d want to ignore him – that would just be a disaster. He’d end up permeating your consciousness in some way, most likely through a fractured ambient passage via synthesizer or acoustic guitar, getting to the center of your being before guiding you like a guru to some new age of enlightenment. That’s sort of the Sean Conrad way.

But what’s this? He’s recording under his Ashan moniker for this one? I mean, I haven’t written about Ashan yet. No one has – not here anyway. Even though Ashan is six releases deep on that Bandcamp page, turns out you have to release music on cassette to be considered around here. All that stuff is digital (…or, a book), so no dice. But Death Is New Life is certainly a physical artifact, and the cassette is an attractive white with a lovely black-and-white four-panel J-card, so I’m obliged to make good on my word as a music reviewer (haha, I almost wrote “journalist”).

Here’s the thing you may want to consider if you’re not already in the know: Death Is New Life sounds like an indie rock record. Yeah, I saw that double take, because I did one too! It’s indie rock in a sort of downtrodden, almost slowcore kind of way, and there still aren’t too many lyrics (much of the vocals are wordless), but the real surprise may be that Conrad is able to retain the beauty of his other, more pastoral releases within distorted guitars and actual drums. Indeed, the press even notes that Death “[explores] where the physical meets the spiritual and how the two influence and dialogue [sic] each other.”

Decay and rebirth through the mulching of overdriven guitars – that sounds like the path to endless relistens. And even though Ashan hits some more populist notes in the creation of this music, there are still passages, for the diehard fans, of ambient bliss, such as the brilliantly titled “Feedback Cleanse” (please tell me there’s some sort of alternative medicine that practices this), “Behind the Veil,” and the warm embrace of closer “Flickering.” Altogether, with the juxtaposition of the different approaches, Death Is the New Life continues to sound fresh and interesting on each new track. Who knew there were so many paths to enlightenment?

--Ryan Masteller