First in a series, apparently, with the next volume released in February, The Mechanical Abrasions Of… sees The Nav swerving sideways from the crystalline sherbet rabbit hole of October’s Lemon Blossom Gently Pixelating In the Breeze for something tougher and more grooved based. Imagine if Chas Chandler had packed a young James Marshall Hendrix off to Dusseldorf in 1966 in a misguided attempt at a Fab Four style rock baptism of fire, but, instead of churning out endless Little Richard covers to drunkards in bars, Herr Jimi bumped into Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider on their way back from the hardware shop. Well, you might just get something like this. Burning guitar crescendos, tracing molten contrails across vibrating waveforms as whales croon their deep-water songs in the background. Percussion like chunks of concrete, stamping out mechanical rhythms to thrilling effect. Fun fun fun.
Although I sometimes wonder whether Mel Ó Dubhshláine is less Phil Todd’s partner in crime and more like his jailer, bolting the door on the guitar room and hitting record until she’s got enough solarised shredding to graft onto her liquid electronics, my carefully crafted dream-vision breaks down on the realisation, via a diplomatic tweet from Phil Todd, that this is, in fact, a solo Todd joint. (Read the credits… ahem… sorry, just enjoying it all a little too much). And, anyway, that vision of eternal soloing doesn’t explain how well-matched the guitars and synths are on a typical Ashtray rifferama, and that’s particularly true on this solo outing. Even on a tune like Sheen Gun, where we get a good few minutes of majestic drone arcs and avian cyborg wibbles before any string mangling drops in, it feels like synergy rather than assembly, the descending axe lines ringing out as a perfectly-judged counterpoint to the drumless synth parabolas.
At times during these four long-ish pieces, that drum machine crack is almost retro in its muscular, semi-gated-reverb crash, as if teams of lackeys at the Real World studios had spent days adjusting the settings while Todd lounges on the sofa, munching grapes and chilling with Peter Gabriel and Baba Maal. On Have You Made New York Dirtier Today? an irregular bass wobble pulls things sullenly into the future, as the guitar snarls around in the not-quite-middle distance, a furious teenager yelling from behind their bedroom door. There’s more almost-vintage fun on the relatively short Visor, where the fizzing guitar line never quite breaks into the melody of Duran Duran’s Wild Boys but – accidentally I’m sure – seems to take up residence in a nearby dressing up box. It’s fantastic, anyway, a sharp-sided jewel edged with serrated synth lines that’ll rip your fingers off if you try to stash it in your rucksack.
Todd chucks us a curveball at the end, with the bubbling kosmische vibes of Rushes given a frozen, broken-glass fuzz layer of guitar, the gnarled power chord stasis trying desperately to anaesthetize its propulsive electro-pulse. It has a pleasingly 90’s wide-eyed feel, too, sufficiently trippy to pass muster as … oh I dunno, an abandoned Screamadelica outtake, maybe. You can imagine it opening up portals to new states of being on a wet Thursday evening in the Hacienda as legions of pudding-bowl gurners shuffle on, searching for their own individual paradise, flares and all. Twisting my melon, brother? You bet.