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Nate Ashley

There's absolutely no good reason for the fact that you've probably never heard of Nate Ashley, because his acoustic-based folk-pop rivals the work of people like Elliott Smith, Bill Callahan of Smog, and Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse in sonic complexity and lyrical potency. That's not to suggest that Ashley sounds like any member of that group, though he does share a certain ethereal quality derived from a breathy delivery and sleepy compositions. And like those people, Ashley writes songs that are consistently inward looking and deeply personal.

Musically, Ashley covers a lot of ground, connecting himself with the folk-rock tradition through myriad acoustic guitar textures and organ lines, while also giving his compositions a contemporary -- and unconventional -- flavor through his use of drum machines, sequencers, and everyday found sounds like sirens, birdsong, and telephones. Sometimes the instrumentation of an Ashley piece seems like a bit of a stretch, but his talent as an arranger makes each song work, and to his credit, he never overindulges in odd sonic juxtapositions, keeping the music subtle and restrained. That's perfectly in keeping with his albums' lyrical themes, which deal in offbeat ways with loneliness, estrangement, and identity.

Ashley recorded his poignant debut album Where Matter Lives between 1996 and 1998 on four-tracks and eight-tracks in bedrooms across the Pacific Northwest and released it on Knw-Yr-Own in 1999. "This music was intended to be listened to alone," Ashley notes on the inner sleeve, and the stark melancholy beauty of the music contained within bears that out. A year later, Ashley released his follow-up, Darling I'm Your Devil, a similar if slightly more polished outing, on his own Left-Handed label. In 2001, he released his third album, a bit of a departure on which he spoofs the Italian horror movie soundtracks of the '70s with a limited-edition score to the fictional cult classic Dead Lover's Benevolent Return.

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