Tsinder Ash: Both The Wound And The Blade (Bone Weapons Records)
7th May 2020
London-based multi-instrumentalist Tsinder Ash gathers collaborators from Swans, Shivelights, PURS and Bat for Lashes for experimental EP, Both The Wound And The Blade. Andy Brown joins the dots and delves deep for Louder Than War.
Isn’t it wonderful when listening to one artist means you inadvertently discover another? London-based multi-instrumentalist Tsinder Ash has worked with Clara Engel for over 10 years. Despite listening to Engel’s work for a long time this month’s Both The Wound And The Blade EP will be my introduction to Ash’s music. A quick look at the line-up reveals yet more connections. Swans/ Shearwater percussionist Thor Harris contributes alongside Bradford-born singer-songwriter (and sometime Bat for Lashes band member) Laura Groves, Andy Becker from London-based electro-rock outfit PURS and Johnny Keating of Sheffield folk-fusion act, Shivelights. There’s a real sense that you’re getting a window into a genuine community of kindred-spirits. A nice thought, especially at a time like this.
The EP begins with the title track; a sparse, somewhat sombre composition that drifts in on Harris’ subtle marimba and ‘metal box’ playing and ends with a spine-tingling chorus of voices, “I am the wound/ I am the blade”. A brief yet undeniably startling introduction. Loom picks up the momentum with a strange, ever-shifting, ritualistic groove interweaving with flutes and synths. The music is experimental and seemingly teetering on the edge of collapse. A satisfyingly unpredictable and fresh sound that has me listening intently to every metamorphic shift. The dark and dreamlike Foreign Bodies remains sparse while introducing a smattering of Celtic harp. A haunting, unsettling and powerful piece about refugees and the horrendous ambivalence that their struggle and their lives are often met with, “you left those foreign bodies/ floating in dark water”. It’s a song that stays with you long after it’s finished.
Conquer Me pulses with low-key, late-night electronica as Ash sings about an “Impenetrable identity forged from myth and memory”. The vocals, especially on the chorus, reminding me a little of Brian Eno in his pre-ambient, weird-pop phase. From the torn flag on the cover to some of the lyrical content, Both The Wound And The Blade seems interested in addressing matters of empathy and identity both national and personal. Protection is over all too quickly yet it’s mix of dark, ambient electronica and Ash’s clear, powerful voice is intoxicating. “But if I could offer you protection” sings Tsinder as the music fades “I would give up my life”. It’s another moment that catches you off guard, quietly delivering something of an emotional gut-punch. The EP comes to a close with the wounded yet hopeful swell of Unfold You. While sometimes restrained or semi-spoken, the chorus finds Ash’s voice soaring, “I try to hold on/ To my love”. Much like the rest of the EP Unfold You is an experimental and subtle piece. Play it in the background and it might even pass you by, engage with the songs and you’ll most certainly be rewarded. While I can hear shades of Coil, Anohni, Psychic TV and Björk, Both The Wound And The Blade remains a distinctive and endlessly intriguing listen.
All words by Andy Brown. You can visit his author profile and read more of his reviews for Louder Than War here.