"We were always too rock for the art crowd and too artsy for the rock & roll crowd,” Phil Todd - the musician behind Yorkshire kosmische institution Ashtray Navigations for the past 30 years – explained to The Quietus in a recent career-examining feature. “I've always been a big fan of playfulness. I take great pleasure in the unexpected and illogical aspects of recording music."
The music of ‘Ash Nav’, as the project is known to its devoted admirers, has traversed the fields of drone, noise, krautrock, lo-fi, psychedelia and ambient across 180 or so releases since 1994. But as Phil indicates, one of the determining characteristics of this project is a sharply-honed sense of playfulness.
These sonic explorations might be dedicated to exploring the weirdest of unnamed feelings and perverse half-thoughts scuttling around the back of our minds, but it is never not joyful. And Ash Nav’s new LP, Before You Play This, might well be the most joyful of the lot.
Before You Play This is such an unashamedly pleasure-embracing album that it’s hard not to think of it as a kind of psychedelic pop music. Its textures are bright and shiny, its structures – for a band sometimes mistakenly thought of as creating formless, abstract splurges of sound – are concise, catchy, and, on tracks like The Case at least, almost danceable.
Sure, it still feels like your eyeballs are melting and your brain is fizzing, but in a happy way?
Thanks to 2020’s universally acclaimed Greatest Imaginary Hits retrospective, compiled by long-time celebrity fans including Henry Rollins, a new generation of music fans are discovering Ashtray Navigations for the very first time. Before You Play This proves that Ash Nav continues to confound, surprise, and innovate – that this is modern, forward-looking music, forever pointing out possible new futures for sound.
Praise for Ashtray Navigations,
“This particular brand of home brew lysergia falls in and out of underground fashion, but it's to Todd's credit that he doesn't seem to give a shit, carrying on as he would regardless. That's what legends are made of, kid… if the hall of fame doesn't give my dude a lifetime achievement award soon, the whole of Greatest Imaginary Hits might be reason enough to start storming the gates and demanding action.” – The Quietus
“AN remain a puzzlingly underrated but integral part of the UK underground scene.” – The Wire
“A symbiotic swirl of grey and halogen, with the unmistakable tones of cheap keyboards and practice amps reworked into the implements of astral lift-off.” – ATTN:Magazine
“Phil Todd boils Kosmiche in a manner that suggests he’s got a direct line to the cosmic source, foaming and frothing his way through synth nodes hard pressed to contain the oddly pulsing gamma waves that radiate from within.” – Raven Sings The Blues
“Raw, noisy, often ecstatic, transporting, textural, and most of all, free.” – Petriblog
“Truly far out stuff that'll make you feel like you're taking a trip to another universe and beyond… For a totally tripped out experience, you won't do much better than this. Provocative. Wild. And amazing. Recommended. Top pick.” – Babysue
“Just in case you’ve lived in a cave without Wi-Fi for twenty years: Ashtray Navigations is the long-running ‘band’ name of the singular Phil Todd, a living goddamned treasure whose music from the early 90s all the way until today, a hundreds-strong catalogue that shows no sign of slowing down or running on empty, is worth as much of your time as you can spare.” – Vital Weekly