When ‘Utopian Ashes’ was first announced, there was no shortage of confused looks and turned heads. On paper, it’s a delicate, niche project, one that sees a legend of indie-rock joining forces with one of modern post-punk’s brightest stars to produce a fictionalised pre-divorce album inspired by a heady mix of southern soul, country, and blues, but in practice, it’s so much more.
Sliding into character and weaving a steady tale of family, infidelity, drugs, and loss, Bobby Gillespie and Jehnny Beth fearlessly explore new directions, slipping away from their fierce indie rock pasts to create a vintage country release that gives no easy answers, no fairy-tale endings, but plenty of harsh realism.
Impressively, Gillespie and Beth manage to artfully break free from their established styles on ‘Utopian Ashes’, striking on something that is wonderfully surprising and truly moving. Time and time again, both artists continually harness a pain that is all too relatable, delivering some of the most evocative songs of both their careers with a newfound vulnerability that resounds with quietly affecting success. A brilliant collaborative relationship made whole, the album is filled with powerful drama and sweeping instrumental beauty that is as gripping as it is vulnerable, bringing these characters to life in a way that feels honest and authentic.
Raw, expressive, and bravely pared-back, the album’s main strength comes in offering something dramatically different to Gillespie and Beth’s respective brands, defying any expectations or preconceptions with songs like ‘Remember We Were Lovers’ and ‘Chase It Down’.
While the central narrative of ‘Utopian Ashes’ might be nothing new, the way that Gillespie and Beth have told it is a thing of raw, textured beauty. Filled with delicate grace and plenty of expressive moments, the record is easily one of the most surprising and affecting records of the year so far.