Ashtray Navigations

Greatest Imaginary Hits

A fan-selected best-of set puts Phil Todd and Co's psychedelic languor and squall into a fresh, multidimensional perspective.

The Dustbin Psychedelia Hall Of Fame is positively littered with compromised corpses. Some maybe went a little too rock/pop; others began to consider themselves Serious Composers. Others just got bored, quit music, and focused on their work as computer programmers or whatever. It takes tenacity, and maybe a touch of fried madness, to get consistently weird for even three years, much less three decades.

Yet that rarefied space is precisely where one finds Ashtray Navigations, the laboratory in noise-laden trippery operated by Phil Todd (and, in recent years, Melanie O’Dubhslaine, plus a host of guests). Since 1991, Todd has compulsively recorded a seemingly endless series of huzzy, gooned-out trips based around his twin interests in spacy rock and experimental skree. Released as a stream of limited cassettes, CDRs, and vinyl, these recordings have over the years found many a sympathetic ear among noise heads, adventurous trippers, and yes, hardcore-icon-turned-underground-benefactor Henry Rollins.

For Imaginary Hits, a massive 4xCD and 1xLP collection, Henry Rollins himself has lent a hand in determining just what constitutes an AshNav "hit," assembling one disc of the collection; connoisseurs Peter Coward and Rob Hayler, along with fellow traveler Neil Campbell (of Vibracathedral Orchestra/Astral Social Club), picked their favorites for the other three. This selection method makes for intriguing juxtapositions: with such a massive body of work at hand, it only stands to reason that these four would come up with a version of Todd’s work which most reflects their own idées fixe, be it Coward’s taste for airplane hangar whoosh and clangour or Rollins’ ear for screaming guitar splooge.

The LP, meanwhile, features recent work compiled by the band themselves, showing that they’ve matured into an expansive, searching unit which needn’t use tape hiss as a crutch. This is by no means an underhanded slight at their early work, much of which indeed buries its riffs and textures beneath layers of magneto-distorto gunk; it is merely an acknowledgment that the AshNav sound needn’t hinge itself on that approach, especially when they’ve already given the world so much in that fashion. Besides, the somewhat slicker production of recent work affords a clearer image of Todd’s serrated guitar gnashing, which at its best wails past Saturn’s rings like Richard Pinhas guesting with Hawkwind.

This particular brand of home brew lysergia falls in and out of underground fashion, but it’s to Todd’s credit that he doesn’t seem to give a shit, carrying on as he would regardless. That’s what legends are made of, kid… if the hall of fame I mentioned at the beginning doesn’t give my dude a lifetime achievement award soon, the whole of Greatest Imaginary Hits might be reason enough to start storming the gates and demanding action.

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