Ashrae Fax is a goth-y/post-punk-ish/dream-pop-ish band from North Carolina. The primary members are Renee Mendoza Haran (Durham) and Alex Chesney (Greensboro). They formed in Greensboro in the late 1990s and their only releases were a couple of CD-R EPs and a self-released album from 2003. This year, that album —Static Crash— was rereleased by Mexican Summer Records.
The songs on Static Crash have a sound that’s quite a bit like Siouxie and early Cocteaus, and I absolutely love that. Part of it has to do with Mendoza’s angelic and perfectly delay-laden vocals. Another part has to do with Alex’s smoky drum machine, guitars and synths. Of course they had help from other musicians, but it’s really just those two.
After the disbanding of Ashrae Fax, Renee went on to start a dreamy southern rock band called Filthybird with guitarist Brian Haran (whom she had been dating for a while) and a revolving cast of bassists and drummers. Two albums later, that band split up. These days, Mendoza and Haran are married, living in Durham, and they’re the core of a band called Ama Divers, who I don’t know how to describe other than “textural” and “ambient”. Haran is a big fan of the ambient stuff that Brian Eno did, and it shows. Oh. And Brian Haran is also a great luthier. If you need your fretted instrument fixed or if you need one custom-built, go see him at Fret Sounds.
Ashrae Fax and Ama Divers will both be playing at the Hopscotch Music Festival in Raleigh next weekend. Ashrae Fax is playing during a very difficult stretch on Saturday night. They’ve got the 11:00-midnight slot at The Hive. At the same time, Torres is at Deep South and Low is at Fletcher Opera Theater. I’d like to see all three. And that’s what the day parties are for. Seeing the bands that you would otherwise be forced to miss.
Even though Ashrae had its roots in my town, and even though I knew both Renee and Alex independently of each other, I didn’t realize that they played music together until it was essentially too late. And it sort of blew me away when I put two and two together one day in 2003. I used to do a radio show on WQFS on the same day that Renee did hers. I knew of her, but I didn’t know her yet. I was aware of her tastes because they were a lot like mine. I would have to check her playlists to make sure that I wasn’t going to play the same show. A couple of years later, I worked with Alex and I had his musical taste pegged completely wrong. Or more appropriately, I should say that his tastes are much MUCH broader than I had imagined. When Alex played Ashrae Fax for me one day, I was expecting something totally different, and I was very impressed. Then when I did the maths and figured out that Renee was the same Renee who used to have a radio show like mine, the pieces started to fit together a little better.
This is one of those songs from the recently re-released album:
“Pointbreak” by Ashrae Fax
Obviously, I like the aforementioned things. The airy vocals, the UK dream-pop sound of the guitars, the dreamy synths. Even the drum machine. But the thing that I really love is the second vocal track with the very Liz Fraser-esque quality. And the bits when it’s sort of tough to discern affected guitar from synth.
This sounds pretty great in digital format, but I imagine it’s a much better experience when listened to on vinyl.
Speaking of which, you can buy the 2013 reissue of Static Crash in your choice of digital or vinyl. Get it from the Mexican Summer web store here.
You can still get your Hopscotch 3-day pass here. I’ll hope to see some of you there!