Ashes for Dreams is the sum of two talents – Johan Alm of Sweden and Karen O’Mahony of Ireland. What Ashes for Dreams has brought to the music table is an interesting mesh of Heavy Rock and Modern Folk music. This fusion of differences made for a wonderful collection of songs that translates into stories for lovers as it appeals to our humanity which transcends any specific structure of a genre. “Cut You Loose” lyrically and musically frames the definition of Ashes for Dreams – vibrant storylines, pulsating guitar lines, vocals with character, and memorable hooks.
The 12 songs on “Cut You Loose” showcases this very fact with titles that jump off the page:
- Cut You Loose
- Would It Help?
- Invisible War
- Hands Off
- I Am Perfect
- Rainy Days
- Always You
- Don’t Play That Card
- Lie With Me
In this capsule review, I will focus on the songs that are emotionally charged to highlight Ashes for Dreams defining presence.
We begin with the opening track, “Freeloader” – a track that’s powerfully ROCK and will have you singing that hook all day. With this track, you will not hear the standard harmonies of Rock music, but you will hear that POWER that makes us love ROCK music. The core melody, formed by the drumline and bass, is very reminiscent of the 1960’s British Rock tracks that had those stop-go drumbeats, quirky synths, and guitar breaks with the lead vocalists singing above the melody. The jangly guitar and tambourines in the bridge sets you up for a wild ride going out. This is awkwardly awesome.
“Rumble” comes in seductively mellow and builds into a funky, bouncing, track. I enjoyed the laid-back vocal prowess of O’Mahony – the way she has that unafraid, ready to pounce, effect with her vocal style – this illustrates the premise of the song. This also displays a person having that wait-and-see attitude towards their lover to see whether they will be straight or full of lies. The guitars literally take center stage on this track with Alm hammering the strings so fervently giving the song the energy it needs.
The title-track lyrically deals with the mixed feelings of yearning and release within a relationship when a person is wrestling with the notion to either keep a lover or cut them loose. The downtempo of O’Mahony’s vocal delivery is gratifyingly complex and light. The elongated delivery of the lyrics in the hook, as well as the nursery rhyme melody, gives the track a hauntingly awoke feeling. The drumline on this track is so present and plays well with the authoritative lead guitar and rhythm guitar that walk on their own with Alm pulling the strings. Another great facet of “Cut You Loose” is the wonderful takeaway that the bridge delivers. This is my favorite!! The music on this track has that Rock sensibility that die-hard Rock fans crave.
The music on “Rainy Days” is so beautifully 1980’s in its delivery with its tempo and melody. It is light and infectious. The form of the verses, hooks, adlibs, and backing vocals allows for the lyrics to clearly define the storyline without those parts of the song clashing or creating boredom – yes, there’s white space in the music in the form of NO CLUTTER, and it is welcoming. The simple conversational way that O’Mahony directs her lead is clever and forms a great platform for the hooks to soar. Moreover, Alm supports her vocals by allowing the lead guitar to basically sing along with O’Mahony. A song about perfect love never sound so NOW and THEN.
The last track that’s emotionally charged is “Lie With Me” – a mellow track that has that sip of whiskey power behind it, and it doesn’t disappoint.
Driven by O’Mahony’s passion and Alm’s coolness, “Lie With Me” is the Rock ballad of the collection. The lyrics to “Lie With Me” talk about being the half of another’s heart no matter the cost – even if it takes your laying down beside them, or lying for them, leaving the past behind and creating a new story is the ultimate goal. On this track, you hear both Alm and O’Mahony contributing to the lead vocals and it is FIRE! Alm’s mellow approach to his lead suits O’Mahony’s range which has substance and character. The track is performed on instruments that are scaled back some giving that emotional drive the story needs, but the guitars are very present and keeps the soul of the track meandering. I think that “Lie With Me” will become one of the duo’s signature songs.
"Cut You Loose" is an adaptable collection of modern music that gives us something to plug into our ears to distance ourselves from the millennium clutter, because its arrangement places us into a decade where music was really MUSIC. Still, this music embraces those highlights of modern music that are special. It reads complicated on paper, but it is so right.
Johan Alm, one of my favorites in Indie Rock, who’s known for his multi-instrumentalism, songwriting, and powerful guitars, has teamed up with an equally talented artist who is known for quintessential Folk music and spell-binding vocals, Karen O’Mahony. This creation is nothing short of perfection!
It’s the differences blending so well to make it familiar that takes this album over the top. Alm’s instrumental soundscapes, gritty vocals, and strong melodies, pairs well with O'Mahony's contralto, take no-prisoners lyrical and vocal approach to songs - similar to Joan Jett. This is on-time for what listeners need right now.
Ashes for Dreams’ “Cut You Loose” reflects a nice change in direction within the Indie Music tapestry and reminds us of the songs in the 1980s that combined grit and tenacity with beautiful melodies and practical lyrics. That musical juxtaposition is refreshing. This album pretty much summarizes how something that should come out so wrong comes out so RIGHT!