Review Summary: The Illinois pop rock upstarts set the stage for what will hopefully materialize into a long and productive career.
Rise Records has long been home to bands like Dance Gavin Dance and Crown the Empire and has even begun housing bands like Chelsea Grin. But among their growing roster of talent is Illinois pop rock group Ashland. They released their fantastic debut album Wildfire
in 2017 on InVogue Records, and while they probably would have benefitted from some Warped Tour backing, they were able to secure a spot on the Rise Records roster. They may be unknowns at this time, but this listener is hoping the signing will go down as a masterstroke in years to come.
signified this band's ability to sink their teeth into grittier, pop punk hooks and compositions, but they also have quite the knack for writing superior pop music. Rather than doubling down on a style that could have dogged them with comparisons to bands like Paramore, Ashland is carving out a niche with more poppier sensibilities. Their music was accessible and easy on the ears before, but their sophomore outing Over the Moon
is loaded with tracks that could dominate the top 40 tomorrow and it doesn't sacrifice the band's identity one iota in the process.
"I Hate That" forays into pop territory very early on, but it doesn't succumb to the temptations of the format. It's meticulously put together. It helps that these tracks are presented by Asia Woodward's angelic vocals. Full disclosure, this woman is better than your favorite singer and I'll die on that hill. Asia can gracefully go up and down the scales with her voice, and her crescendos and croons are particularly inviting on the album's opening cut. The title track "Over the Moon" is occupied by an elegant mix of keys and drums, and Aaron Wood's guitar work has a nice, glossy shimmer to it. Asia sings of a one-sided love she can't seem to put to rest and the layered vocals add plenty of depth to this track.
"Motivation" opens with an inoffensive mix of guitar work, before masterfully gliding into very clean synths and basslines. "All these holidays are just smoke and mirrors," a brutally honest Asia proclaims. "No Place" is more pop done right, even if it does play like a product of the time it's been made in. "Ghost" borders on synth pop territory; this would be nightclub banger is among the best and most interesting cuts on this album. "OMG" does a better job at getting the hook stuck in your head than most artists with industry backing ever could. "I can't read your mind", Asia repeats, backed by more fleshed out vocal layers.
"Think You Know Me" marries its poppier beats with simplistic guitar slicks in the best way, and Asia again takes the spotlight rather quickly. "You think you know, but you don't know me at all," she sings. "Gotta Go" closes the album with an instrospective Asia Woodward singing of forging ahead in life. "I gotta go, even if I go alone", she muses. Upon hitting the song's bridges, the song provides one last grooving chorus before closing out this masterpiece of an album. Over the Moon
is a logical progression from Wildfire
, given the band's preestablished penchant for handily performed pop hooks. It may lack any spank or bite its predecessor had in terms of venturing into the harder rock side of the spectrum; in fact, that's fully absent here. But it does progress the group's sound palette in a clean and digestible way that won't alienate listeners who may have initially expected a copycat of Paramore or We Are The In Crowd. Ashland is a superbly talented act, occupied by a group of folks who ran through everything with a fine toothed comb, and fronted by one of the best damn singers on this earth. I am so excited to see where they go next.