I was riding on the train from Trenton, New Jersey to New York City the first time I listened to Asvaï¿½s debut full-length, Futurists Against the Ocean. The scenery deteriorates with time on that trip, until the view becomes pure post-industrial wasteland. Abandoned factories, murky lakes of toxic water and imposing power lines blur together to form an overall picture of urban decay. I wasnï¿½t more than halfway through before I realized that Futurists Against the Ocean is the soundtrack to that decay: a creaking, rustling, droning aural evocation of what it must be like to live on the outskirts of Newark.
Asva could be lazily pigeonholed as ï¿½doomï¿½ or ï¿½droneï¿½ (or ï¿½droom,ï¿½ if you like to make up words). Thatï¿½s understandable, considering that the band was founded by guitarist G. Stuart Dahlquist, best known for his work in SUNN O))), and drummer B.R.A.D. (apparently a big Stone Gossard fan). Dahlquist and his acronymï¿½d associate are also members of Burning Witch, a glacially paced, skull-crushingly heavy droom (yeah, itï¿½s a word now) outfit. The lineupï¿½s other underground -rock luminaries include Mr. Bungleï¿½s Trey Spruance and Master Musicians of Bukkakeï¿½s John Schuller. But Asva is certainly not just another run-of-the-mill ï¿½heavyï¿½ band, cranking out relentless slow-motion riffage amidst bleak atmospherics. Rather, the band represents a dramatic leap forward for the genre, taking the pacing, ambience and texture of doom music and fusing it with a John Cale-meets-Ennio Morricone sensibility. In short, Asva plays avant-garde spaghetti westerns.
The result is Futurists Against the Ocean. The disc is divided into four tracks, but it functions best as one extended piece. Opener ï¿½Kill the Dog, Tie Them Up, Then Take the Moneyï¿½ begins with a low drone that expands into a dissonant symphony of lumbering guitar and clattering church bells before dissipating into ï¿½Zaum; Beyonsense.ï¿½ Here, oscillating waves of deep bass rumble and cymbal-heavy percussives battle for attention until they are overtaken by a simple quarter-note stomp on the bass drum. This minimalistic moment carries into ï¿½Fortune,ï¿½ which has the ominous feel of an approaching storm, soon breaking into vocalist Jessica Kenneyï¿½s otherworldly operatic wails. Kenneyï¿½s vocals return in ï¿½By the Well of Living and Seeing,ï¿½ beginning harmoniously before being multi-tracked into oblivion, resulting in an overwhelming amalgam of ethereal screaming.
Listening to Futurists Against the Ocean in a distracted mind state renders it meaningless. ï¿½Songsï¿½ this textured and slow-building are only rewarding if you pay close attention. And, as I learned, the environment in which you listen to this, Asvaï¿½s inspired sonic rendering of our decaying American landscape, is crucial. This is droom music for the twenty-first century.