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Sounds Familiar

Ashley Stove cooks up catchy, lingering indie rock by the bellyful


Don’t you just love it when a foreign language has a single, sleek word for something that takes ten or more words and often a dependent clause to express in English? The Germans can just toss off Ohrwurm (lit. “ear worm”) with stiff Prussian efficiency, making us look like a bunch of mouth-breathers in comparison for actually having to stand around and say “a song that’s stuck in your head.”

But that’s what an Ohrwurm is (it means “earwig,” too; you might like to take a moment here to ponder the Brothers Grimm logic of punishment at work here). I like to think of this mythical beast like the Ceti eel that they put in people’s ears in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.

Now if only there were a word for that maddening feeling when a song, singer, band reminds you so much of something else that you just can’t place for the life of you. Hyunh! Hyunh! You strain and strain, but you just can’t make that golden connection. The outlet you need doesn’t have a grounding prong. The nerve endings just sit there in idle on either side of the synapse, like the two halves of an intercontinental railroad whose surveyors failed to reckon a humid swamp on the site where they were planning to drive the golden spike.

Such is the case with Raleigh, N.C.’s Ashley Stove on their new CD, All Summer Long. Every song on the album—really, every song—slams home with the easy confidence of a tune you know you loved growing up but can’t quite draw a bead on. Is it Squirrel Bait? Is it old Soul Asylum? Is it Superchunk? There are strong cases to be made for each of these references, but it’s ultimately to the Ashley Stove’s credit that none of them quite stick. In some instances, it all boils down to a single word or inflection, even a drum fill that sets the Remembertron to wheezing. And catchy? Oh, brother, once these songs get tucked between a lobe and a fold up there, they chew their way around for a good long while. Hooks and excitable Southern indie-rock harmonies out the yang.

The Ashley Stove came together in the fertile Raleigh scene in 1992, formed out of what the band’s Merge Records bio calls “many band-fantasy discussions” between boyhood friends Matt Brown and Ben Barwick. A stable line-up featuring Billy Alphin (earlier of art-rock cosmonauts Buttsteak) and Jennifer Walker, (who signed on for bass duty after the breakup of her previous band, Erectus Monotone) precipitated out of a wash of would-be collaborators coming and going.

All Summer Long is the band’s fourth long-player and second for Chapel Hill-based Merge Records. It’s also their first recording since the departure of founding member Brown, who struck out on his own early last year. If the band’s confidence was rattled by this parting of the ways, it doesn’t show in the ten enthusiastically delivered and flawlessly produced songs included here. Inspired, angst-free rock just doesn’t come much sweeter.

Now off you go. Out of my mind, already.

The Ashley Stove play this Saturday at Jay’s Upstairs with Switch and the Preemies. 10 PM. Cover TBA.

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