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Ashes Divide’s Debut Gives Some Hope

Keep Telling Myself It’s AlrightBilly Howerdel is a lucky man. His career has been a little backwards. In his first band, a little group called A Perfect Circle, he got to work with Maynard James Keenan, Josh Freese, Jordie White, James Iha amongst others. Nothing like writing a few songs and then headlining a few tours after opening for Nine Inch Nails for a bit. But with A Perfect Circle on indefinite hiatus, it was time for Howerdel to put out a solo album to get a bit more experience under his belt. Like I said, a little backwards.

The result is Ashes Divide’s debut album, Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright. Playing most of the instruments (save the drums and a few guest spots here and there), the album is a true solo album from the man who create the great sonic landscapes behind A Perfect Circle. And Ashes Divide is no different. Howerdel’s approach to the guitar and music is truly distinct and remains in tact as he moved to this project. Each song is simultaneously heavy, mellow and melodic. I’m not quite sure how he does it, but he has a distinct sound that is incredibly his own. Keep Telling Myself has a consistent stream of musical sadness that runs through the 45-minute album length, with each song sounding like the score to a mini-film. Multiple layers, reverb and keyboards create plush sounds that brought me back to part of the reason I love A Perfect Circle. Billy Howerdel is an excellent musician with a keen ear and it translates well when he’s not working with a full band.

But Howerdel’s ability to write music was never really under question. Rather, the lingering doubt was whether he could pull of the vocals. Being linked to Keenan, a distinct vocalist with the band TOOL and Puscifer, was going to make it difficult to pull off a solo act without falling victim to comparisons between Howerdel’s lyrics and vocals and Keenan’s. And, if Keep Telling Myself has a weakness, it lies in Howerdel’s vocals. His lyrics and vocal styling tend to come off a bit too emo as Howerdel’s high tenor voice sings of denial waiting to claim him. But the album as whole does not come off as an emo album, thanks to the superb music lying underneath, begging the question, “Is emo more than sad, drippy lyrics?”

But that’s neither here nor there. The point is that Ashes Divide’s Keep Telling Myself It’s Alright is a great first outing for a man who has had one of the best first outings. While I don’t see the band becoming huge, I do see Howerdel successfully putting out a few more albums under this band name. But overall, I found myself listening to the music, partially ignoring the vocals and pining for A Perfect Circle to get back together.

-Justin

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