Review Summary: Members of Ashenspire and Maud the Moth combine to create something special.
As I write this review, my mouse cursor has been hovering the Order
button on Healthyliving's bandcamp page for a good fifteen minutes. An overwhelming sense of guilt is battling an impending need for satisfaction. I love this record, I NEED this record, I want to feel the soft touch of vinyl with the tip of my fingers, wrap myself in the smell of its fresh printed sleeve, hug it while I sleep, make myself small like Rick Moranis in "Honey, I shrunk the kids" and submerge myself in the world created by these Songs of Abundance, Psalms of Grief
, but wait...
I don't think any of this is healthy at all.
But first things first, let's paint the background with the logical thought process that has brought me to this fatal dilemma. Healthyliving is the new project of Ashenspire's guitar player and producer Scott McLean and Amaya López-Carromero, the mastermind behind the spectacular avant-folk doom project known as Maud the Moth. In all honesty, I had no idea who these people were three weeks ago. "Ashenspire
"... Yes, the name rang some bells. They're that weird atmoblackjazzprogmetal project that made the rounds on this very site not long ago, am I correct? "Maud the Moth
" on the other hand... Nope, never heard of it. Discovering Healthyliving threw me down the rabbit hole of Amaya's body of work and what a pleasant discovery it has been. Maud the Moth features her on piano and vocals with rotating musicians performing astonishing folky and jazzy doom pieces; think Anna Von Hausswolf meets Esben and the Witch and you'll get the idea.
Actually, the similarities with Esben and the Witch doesn't end in Maud the Moth, as Amaya's and Rachel Davies' voices share a very similar tone, although I have the impression that Amaya's might have a bit more range and power to it. This is enhanced in Healthyliving by the fact that Amaya is not playing piano on this project, which allows her to focus on her singing while Scott McLean takes care of anything with strings or buttons on it, and German drummer Stefan Pötzsch hits anything that can be hit.
Just hearing the first two tracks, Songs of Abundance, Psalms of Grief
instantly feels like a refreshing take on alternative, noisy rock. "Until" is a robust, gloomy and sludgy song that works wonders as an opener, while "Dream Hive" has everything that a good single needs: a branding chorus, the perfect length and the kind of energy capable of making dead brain tissue regenerate itself. In fact, this particular song is reminiscent of one of my all-time favorite Spanish bands of the late 90s, the always amazing Fromheadtotoe on their late indie rock golden era of I’m the Fuel
. From the third cut onwards, the album takes a deep and gentle dive into Maud the Moth territory with slower and whimsical compositions like "Galleries", which serves as the gateway to this sort of “world upside down” kinda side of the album. With the exception of "To the Gallows", which sounds closer to McCain's Ashenspire with its opening blast beast and Amaya completely changing her register to resemble someone like Elizabeth Colour Wheel's Lane Shi, the rest of the album feels like a phantasmagorical presence in the room, Amaya being the medium, and the music acting as spiritual forces being channeled by her voice. The last stretch of three songs, namely "Back to Back", "Ghost Limbs" and especially "Obey", are great examples of this side of the band, more akin to Maud the Moth but with a much heavier approach at times, and therefore the perfect setting for Amaya to shine.
Scott McLean, who had already worked as a producer with Maud the Moth, provides a wide arrange of textures and melodies that combined with the sturdy and precise drumming of Stefan Pötzsch, they both manage to create the perfect vessel for Amaya's vocals to shape up the sound of Healthyliving as something that feels both familiar and unique. The production is on point, with every instrument falling into place and every song playing with different levels of intensity that benefit the flow of the recording. Stylistically, I could compare this Edinburgh based project to many bands, but at the same time, there's so much versatility on this debut that nothing would be entirely accurate. I'd double down on the Elizabeth Colour Wheel mention though, but not as a straight comparison between both bands. Instead, hearing this record I’m having exactly the same sensation I had when I heard ECW’s Nocebo
for the first time: The insurmountable joy of having found a band whose music feels special from the very first minute and all the way to the very last note.
Songs of Abundance, Psalms of Grief
is out on Spanish indie label La Rubia Producciones, which is also home to the likes of Bones of Minerva or Santo Rostro, who are also worth checking if witchy stoner doom is your thing. Healthyliving and also Maud the Moth will be playing at Roadburn festival this year so if you're among the lucky ones to be able to make it to Tilburg in a few days be sure to check both shows!
PS: By the way, I did order the record.