Ellis Ashbrook | Meridia
album review by John Powell
Prog-rock Rambos, Ellis Ashbrook is a contemporary powerhouse of a quartet, drenched in a thousand and one riffs per second, hooks that annoy you enough and then etch inside of you. Plus, harkening back to late 60s prog-rock outfits, Ellis Ashbrook rocks both male and female singers, creating textures on top of dual synths and John Barber’s endless supply of fire. Still underground, Meridia has that garage rock sound, not over-produced, but it lacks in consistency it makes up for in balls-out awesomeness. Their vocals are lost in the swoon of instrumentation, so even after a hundred listens I’m not sure what they’re singing on about.
Yet, lyrics and vocals have never stopped rock n’ roll before, and it shouldn’t deter you from Meridia. No one knows what R.E.M. or Pearl Jam are going off about, but that’s okay, as long as it’s sung passionately, and same with Ellis Ashbrook. The ticket is John. The rest of the bands is capable of keeping up with him, but Prog-Rock needs the lead of guitar.
“Accelerator” starts off the album with scorched guitar zinging like Soundgarden. “I need a rush!” goes the chorus, sung jointly by John and Natalie Lowe. They aren’t singing about much importance, but they don’t let that slow down the clear-cut point of the song.
“Slide” has a more metal guitar riff, but it’s awesomely sexy. Here are some of the lyrics: “Opting to talk/not to talk/I’m ripping my shirt/ not to fall/ too soon/ I’m walking to block/ how I start/ what I want/ when I stoop/ I can lose/ what I need/ to cocoon.” See? It’s frustrating when lyrics get lost in the shuffle, but the song is too damn cool to make it arguable.
They leap from the heavier, more Rush and Coheed and Cambria sounding prog to the jam-oriented glimmer of bands like Umphrey’s McGee. On “Peripheral Declination” the synths keeps things going and John takes on a softer approach to singing.
“Unbreakable” sounds like Fairport Convention, especially with the female vocals and lines like, “And so I go/ to fight other battles.” It does have a slight disco bridge, but it’s done tastefully.
In fact, Ellis Ashbrook runs the gamut, the cool breeze adult contemporary gust of “Climax” to the five minute piano ballad “Bottomfeeder”- and everything in between, but smoothly so that a listen from beginning to end is not boring or conversely disjointed. It’s a musical mission to get all these influences to make sense, and they do through love of rocking out. Bassist Jonathon Granoff and drummer Alex Major are no slouches, really the conduits of the rocking out, energizing tempo changes, and overall instilling great gusto to the mix for John and Natalie (who also plays keys) to find their jams.
Meridia comes highly recommended because it’s not confined to rules and proves that this sound is not dead nor even rehashed. This is fresh stuff.
Bottom line: A wonderful rock album. Male and female singers, devilish drum and bass, and everything you’d ever ask for in a rock album.