On Axxa/Abraxas' self-titled debut LP, 23-year-old Athens, Ga.-based artist/musician Ben Ashley draws on the self-absorbed density of Elephant Six bands, quaintly British Village Green neuroses and the retro-psych of merry pranksters the Bevis Frond to craft insanely catchy tunes about gnawing self-doubt. Ashley copped the word "Abraxas," referring to a god that fuses both good and evil into one being, from self-reflective author Herman Hesse. Such heady concerns drive Ashley's lyrics.
Swathed in mystical silk-screened artwork, Ashley's demo stood out with intriguing packaging, which got him signed to his label. Likewise, his songs gain traction from their sonic gift-wrapping, which serves as a gateway to Axxa/Abraxxas's engaging mind-fuckery.
With spacy synths and roiling riffs that nod to Hawkwind's "Psychedelic Warlords," LP opener "Ryan Michalak (Is Coming to Town)" imagines the Monkees covering Pink Floyd's "Lucifer Sam" in dense fog. Over "Going Forth"'s pinwheeling Farfisa, Ashley's quavering multi-tracked falsetto is front and center, suggesting Crosby, Stills and Nash's high harmonies with the lead vocal stripped out.
Throughout this jauntily narcotic LP, the vocals, which resemble the warble of a disembodied hive mind on a half-remembered Star Trek episode, are merely the weirdest exhibit at Ashley's Odditorium.
"Same Signs" is an unlikely mash-up Echo and the Bunnymen and Big Star-besotted janglecore. The psych madrigal "Beyond the Wind" channels Jefferson Airplane's "The Ballad of You & Me & Poneil" colliding with hyper-driven Neil Young guitar.
Seeing the world through Roger McGuinn's purple haze-tinted granny glasses, Ashley conjures up an alt-universe on this poppy, fuzzy rubber-reality LP, an arena where Teenage Fanclub and the Dream Syndicate battle for top-40 supremacy. For this feat of legerdemain alone, we should bless Axxa/Abraxas's pointy little head.
Axxa/Abraxas will perform at 617 East 28th Street, Suite B on March 26.