Rag N’ Bone
A Handful of Ash
Rag n’ Bone’s A Handful of Ash is more than a handful of agenda-packed, visceral and poetic greatness. It’s a slap in the face of rebellious post punk, with a difference – it’s abstract, intricate and yielding.
A Handful of Ash was produced by Dave Parkin (Jebediah, Tired Lion) and recorded at Blackbird Studios. The album feels more authentic than many of its post punk counterparts and this may because it ticks so many boxes. It is musically creative and technical, it has melodic yet boundary-pushing guitar work, energetic drumming and to top it all off, the lyricism is up there with the best you’ve heard locally in a while.
The band do what they do so well because they are so unrepentant in their style and vision. Kiera Owen’s vocal work is just right – not over done or too perfected, but understated, confident and edgy. It’s impossible not to like and impossible not to be enthralled by – especially when she expels her words with such menacing contempt.
The album starts with Pissy Flow which is an opaque, fast paced, melodic track full of equal parts attitude and musical integrity. It’s the perfect opener for the album as it shows that they have the intellect and artistry to back up their energy. It’s the perfect song to set their agenda as well – that being that they are fed up with their oppressors and they want to unite all those who feel similarly oppressed.
Last Kind Words nicely builds a picture and evokes emotion, with lines such as “see this piss filled river, its real deep and wide, I can see nothing from the other side” making you angered over the vast and entrenched self-interested autocrats and their mindless lemmings.
Mon coeur fait mal takes it down a notch, the track is less driving and more sweeping and ballad-like than other songs on the album, complete with swirling guitar, distorted echoes and layers of reverb all working to compliment and empower Owen’s vocals.
Memory’s Centopath starts off slow and ambient, with little guitar apart from some clever intermittent jarring chords. It progressively develops through the chorus and bridge into a culmination of guitars, drums, screaming and emotion.
I Don’t Feel at Home in this World Anymore starts off as a post-folk song telling the story of displacement in a place which should form your identity. The song has the same impactful punk drumming which runs throughout the album, but everything else is toned down, allowing the band to show its political leanings with poetic, anarchy-laden lyrics the focal point of the song.
Solitude starts off as a mass of distorted guitar and layers of echoing reverb, topped off with Owen’s voice filled with authentic punk vitriol. As ever, the song takes you where you don’t expect and showcases spaced-out intricate guitar lines billowing and building like an epic journey of realisation, until the song yields, evidently ending in defeat or peaceful resolution.
Tall Ships is the shortest song on the album, but it may just be the mightiest. It features ringing reverb and Kiera’s angelic, soft voice hovering above it like an angel. The song is beautifully stripped back and honest, with elegant and supple guitar work. It sounds like a modern day hymn, complete in its transformative duties. It’s here where you realise just how great A Fistful of Ash is.
The Heart is a Lonely Hunter is another nod towards the band’s political leanings, especially around asylum seekers, identity and the treatment of inherent outsiders. It’s another song on the album which allows the sounds and lyrics room to move, solidifying their musical chops and their knowing of when to give less and when to give more.
It’s hard not to compare Lonely Hunter and I Don’t Feel at Home to the early work of Billy Bragg (albeit an Australian version), with the deceptively simple and insightful lyrics, saturated in righteous anger. And if you’re writing political protest alt-folk songs – this is the highest order of commendation. Rag N’ Bone songs though, unlike Bragg’s, always encompass a dense, high intensity section – just to ram home their outrage and musical prowess.
Paul is a return to a orthodox, fast paced, punk progression, with tight drumming at its core, driving and enforcing the song like a firmly run dictatorship. This is a compliment; the band is super tight and everyone knows their place, but also bounces off each other and work nicely together. Paul is probably one of the biggest toe-tappers on the album thanks to the impeccably timed high energy drumming, which in fact, keeps the whole album quite accessible.
A Handful of Ash is as intellectual, polished and technical as it is defiant, angry, beautiful and innate, somehow finding a way to be new and exciting and at the same time feel right at home and instantly likeable. Not only does the band have the conceptual music skill to leave even the harshest of critics rapt, or the most experienced and innovative of guitar players impressed, but they also have a spirit and touch which makes the music hugely gratifying and impossible to stop listening to.