Colloquially referred to as Ash Nav, the group operate out of Todd’s home in Stoke-on-Trent, United Kingdom, from which he also ran the record labels Betley Welcomes Careful Drivers and, subsequently Memoirs of an Aesthete. The project has also released music through labels such as Siltbreeze, Jewelled Antler, American Tapes, Menlo Park, E.F. Tapes and Freedom From.
Whilst the music evades easy categorisation due to variations in sound, approach and personnel, it often incorporates extended droning and lengthy guitar pieces. James Blackshaw described the Ashtray Navigations sound as ”sub-aquatic synth bubble, busted-up cassette-tape hiss and distorted electric guitar hover that sounds like a mythical god banished from the realm of light and trying desperately to clamber his/her way out of a dark bottomless void where time itself stands still”. The Wire’s David Keenan has described Phil Todd/Ashtray Navigations as ”a trashcan antidote to La Monte Young”.
Reviewing Todd’s 36th album, The Love that Whirrs, critic Larry Dolman wrote ”It’s a pretty mammoth piece of work - almost 80 minutes of music spread out over six heavy tracks. They tend to start as intense sun-blinding drone-fields, but if you hold on tight for a minute or two and adjust yourself to these new conditions, you’ll start to notice a wealth of detail, provided by a real band of ringers. Todd has Alex Neilson (Directing Hand, accompanist with some Jandek live performances) on shimmering, fracturing percussion and Ben Reynolds on raga-style guitar and banjo. (Also, one Melanie Delaney appears on one epic track, playing reeds & tapes.) Trash drone, free skiffle, new electric raga, sun blindness music, call it what you will, this is a powerful statement.”.
Although Todd still records solo, most recent Ashtray Navigations titles and live shows have been undertaken by a duo of Todd and Melanie Crowley or by a trio of Todd, Crowley and one other, often Phil Legard (Xenis Emputae Travelling Band) although the lineup has also been joined at one time or another by Alex Neilson, Bill Kouligas (Family Battle Snake) and Ruaraidh Sanachan (Nackt Insecten) - the latter two can be heard on Backstage Education a limited four-disc document of Ash Nav’s 2007 summer tour.
Their discography is extensive, with many limited releases on cassette and CDR formats: albums with a wider distribution include Four Raga Moods (which was followed-up several years later by Four More Raga Moods), The Love that Whirrs, To Your Fucking Feather’d Wings, Dirt Mummies & Bloody Amps, You Cannot Tell Cigars… and Use Copenhagen 69 Guitars and Park Drive Circular Effects Pedals Exclusively.
Edited by wulverstane on 28 Mar 2011, 10:46
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