Unto Ashes: Pretty haunted things (CD)

$16.99 $14.00

Tracks

1 I’m Living in a Coma
2 Letter from Choco to Melody
3 Alone (words: EA Poe)
4 I’m Too High
5 My Dying Machine (Gary Numan)
6 For My Funeral
7 Intertwined
8 White Noise
9 Not Here
10 Don’t Ask Me If I’m Crazy
11 Fall Leaves Fall (words: Emily Bronte)
12 Hidden

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• Limited edition of 500
• Includes their cover of Gary Numan’s “My Dying Machine”
• Performing in June at Schauspielhaus Leipzig Germany as part of the Wave-Gotik-Treffen. Their fourth WGT appearance.

Purchase in Europe for fast, inexpensive shipping:

Information in English here. Click to order the CD.

Unto Ashes conjures a stirring and captivating album, simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. Pretty haunted things — their eleventh Projekt release in a career stretching two decades — effortlessly spans the ages from a dark and medieval flair to modern apocalyptic gothic-folk. Recorded almost entirely in an octagonal Victorian parlor room, bewitched by centuries-old traditions, the songs of reflective solemnity are swathed in dramatic, soaring choruses executed by Ericah Hagle, Michael Laird, and Bret Helm (of Audra).

The music harkens back to their groundbreaking debut, Moon Oppose Moon (PRO106 – 1999): Unto Ashes has wrought music with an unusually broad array of diverse instruments, including hammered dulcimer, harmonium, autoharp, psaltery, viola da gamba, acoustic guitar, piano, and Arabic percussion. The songs are masterfully crafted by Laird, whose enchanting production is characterized by a gossamer of sonic treatments.

The eerie, olden-skills Poppet dolls that adorn the covers seem to beckon the listener with binding spell of ensorcellment.

As is their custom, Unto Ashes’ songs are unified in their explorations of love, loss, and life. There are moments of quiet reverie followed by epic revelry. Ericah Hagle’s “White Noise” presents a harrowing hospital farewell; the melancholic and exalted “I’m Too High” reflects on a distant past; the mesmerizing “I’m Living in a Coma” concerns a flat-lined relationship and could almost be classified as psychedelic music; “Letter from Choco to Melody” is a magnificent eulogy to a beloved rescue cat, and can also be seen as a testament to undying love; the descending melody and preternatural harmonies on “Don’t Ask Me If I’m Crazy” are unforgettable. Strictly speaking, there is a love ballad on the album, although it is deceptively disguised as an anthem “For My Funeral”; some listeners have sworn that this is “the song” that must be played for them on “that day.”

Two songs are graced with words by 19th-century authors, namely Emily Bronte (“Fall Leaves Fall”) and E.A. Poe (“Alone”). Fans of Unto Ashes are well aware that the band has crafted many fine and completely original cover songs, and indeed their 2014 release Ghosts Captured contains no less than 25 (!) of them. On Pretty haunted things Unto Ashes pay homage to one of their early heroes, Gary Numan, with a breathtaking cover version of “My Dying Machine” performed exclusively on Arabic and Oriental instruments.

The title of the album (taken from a line in “I’m Too High”) obliquely references the pretty and haunted songs contained in it. Or is the band referring to the Poppet dolls, which are both pretty and haunted; or to people they either know or have not yet met? Regardless, Pretty haunted things might just be one of their finest conjurations to date.

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Reviews

  1. padmin

    From the Big Takeover

    For the two decades of its existence, enigmatic act Unto Ashes has expertly combined medieval and exotic folk musics with modern gothic sensibilities for a series of extremely distinctive albums that appeal to more than just goths. For the first UA album in five years – and first of original material in seven – bandleader Michael Laird shows just how much his artistry has evolved in that time. Pretty haunted things doesn’t fit easily under any genre’s banner.

    Joined here by Audra guitarist Bret Helm and longtime co-vocalist Ericah Hagle, Laird curates a program of melancholy ballads and mini-anthems that pay tribute to grief, romance and altered states of being. Acoustic guitars form the core of the carefully crafted arrangements, but more exotic instruments add color and style. With reserved performances, the trio focuses tracks with seemingly mundane titles like “I’m Too High,” “Don’t Ask Me If I’m Crazy” and “I’m Living in a Coma” into laser beams of emotional resonance. Laird is also bold enough to set libretto from the worlds of Edgar Allen Poe (“Alone”) and Emily Brontë (“Fall Leaves Fall”) to music without pretentious overreach. The band transforms the Gary Numan tune “My Dying Machine” into an Arabic goth/folk rocker that makes it hard to remember the original.

    While still primarily acoustic, to identify Pretty haunted things as the same blend of gothic rock and folk as previous platters would be misleading. At this point, Laird has absorbed and recalibrated his influences so well that his work sounds like it could have come from no one but himself. -Michael Toland

  2. padmin

    From Rock Portaal

    Meesterwerk van een meester muzikant. Michael Laird weet nog steeds een compleet eigen maar herkenbare sfeer te scheppen. Pretty Haunted Things staat vol met darkfolk met een vleugje middeleeuwse en oosterse invloeden. De muziek kan echter net zo makkelijk als wave met duistere pop omschreven worden. De kunst is het schrijven van interessante liedjes. Met een kop en een staart. Waarin details en de mooie (samen)zang van Ericah Hagle, Michael Laird, en Bret Helm de rustige ankerpunten vormen. Het uitgebreide pallet aan muziekinstrumenten maken Pretty Haunted Things een uitdagende ontdekkingsreis. Met als belangrijkste eigenschap dat het steeds als Unto Ashes blijft klinken. Zelfs als het om een cover van Gary Numan gaat (My Dying Human) of een muzikale bewerking op teksten van Edgar Allen Poe (Alone) of Emily Bronte (Fall Leafs Fall). De plaat bevat de bijzondere eigenschap dat je als luisteraar regelmatig even stil valt. In een moment van bezinning. Bevangen door de schoonheid van de muziek. Zoals op het gedurfde ingetogen White Noise (van Ericah Hagle) en het indrukwekkende Don’t Ask Me If I’m Crazy. Wat een prachtige plaat. -Ron Schoonwater

  3. padmin

    From Rabidhole

    Is there such a thing as a combo of medieval folk music and darkwave? Yes, there is Unto Ashes and they released a new album in May this year. They’ve got a massive back catalogue, use a lot of unusual instruments and I can imagine that fans of Dead Can Dance might appreciate them. I do anyway and that’s the point of this post. The album Pretty Haunted Things has a pace of its own, like it’s from another realm entirely. The songs are slow in a way that makes you close your eyes, breathe deeper and slower, allows your pulse to go down and relax your body. Even my hyper brain is experiencing something that could be close to peace.

  4. padmin

    From Higher Plain Music

    For many years I’ve enjoyed the ancient doom folk of Unto Ashes. Each album usually has a slight twist on a theme. Often an album will showcase a few instruments as standouts such as the hammered dulcimer, pipe organs, hurdy-gurdy or string arrangements. Returning after their covers album with new material for the first time in many years, Unto Ashes continue to wow and intrigue.

    Pretty Haunted Things features the zither as its main instrument of choice. It’s open, sliding strums are unmistakable and can be heard across many of the tracks on the album. The album has a very plucked tone throughout. When zithers aren’t at the fore it’s left to guitars and hammered dulcimers to lead the way with reed instruments as a backup. It works very well to create an ancient sombre mood.

    From the outset of ‘I’m Living in a Coma’, these instruments combine to give a gipsy wandering feel that doesn’t let up. From the misery of the opener to the more dreamlike ‘Letter from Choco to Melody’ and the poetic forest field recordings of ‘Alone’ – I feel like I’m traveling with Unto Ashes. They are moments in time and I’m lucky to hear them. Short instrumental interludes ‘Hidden’ and ‘Not Here’ add to that passage of time vibe too.

    Often it’s when the band comes together and vocal duties are either shared like a chant or female-led where I enjoyed the album most. ‘I’m Too High’ is a trippy psyche-folk gem. Everything is a step out of tune with each other to an eerie accuracy. ‘Don’t Ask Me If I’m Crazy’ and ‘Fall Leaves Fall’ hark back to previous albums of marching medieval troupes and the frankly creepy vocal piece ‘White Noise’ is so quietly mumble-sung it caught me off guard with its shaken delivery. Possibly my favourite piece though is the token cover on the album. ‘My Dying Machine’ is a Gary Numan cover and has sitars, dulcimers, huge percussive loops and heart chants. It’s something you’d expect from Peter Ulrich, Dead Can Dance or Arcana.

    Pretty Haunted Things is a decent place to start as a newbie coming into Unto Ashes – 9 albums in. It offers hints at their past whilst also being a distinctly unique album into their catalogue. I look forward to their onward dance into oblivion with glee.

    Recommended track: My Dying Machine -Simon Smith

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