Losing yourself in the shadows
The first listening to "Lost in Shadows", an album by one of the most talented American songwriters of her generation, Ashley Paul, prevents you from doing anything else.
Listening to Ashley Paul's music, you cannot do anything apart from bending down on the edge of tears in an upheaval of the being of an unspeakable sweetness and freshness. It is now perfectly clear that this voice sings only for you your half-sleep states. Where the most fertile unconscious infuses and works on the nebulous sensations of being in the world. Such a simple naked beauty panics and is quickly covered with as many known figures as possible, including the Björk of the Sugarcubes, a milestone that it welcomes with kindness. But in Mrs. Paul's case, some strange singularity resists.
And there is no obligation to give it any other label than that of a mystery that will never be fully revealed. How can music today fight against the violence of light by constantly bringing us back to the unknowable of a reality that does not go without its shadow? This is the question Ashley Paul is facing.
On stage, cast in her everyday Odette study outfit that the writer Éric-Emmanuel Schmitt could have imagined (gingham checkered shirts, jeans and moccasins from the 1950s), the polyinstrumentalist Ashley Paul comes back to life with the sobriety of a sumptuous three-note stretch of guitar by Fred Frith, the sometimes screaming saxophone by John Lurie, the orientalizing and ritualized percussion animated by the movement of a bow.
The artist cultivates a whispering voice that is quick to unbutton your ear as she emerges from nights of insomnia. Its sonic juxtapositions express a universe of lullabies and tales tiling chamber music, jazz evoking the roundness and sweetness of the overwhelming romanticism of the historical master of American alto saxophone Johnny Hodges (1906-1970) and a wide and warm popular craft of melody. An album conceived after 11 months of silence following the birth of her daughter.
It is firm and winding with a serenity that touches the greatest detachment. Voluntarily subject to the attraction of the blues, Lost in Shadows keeps the memory "of many hours spent sleeping at night in a dream like a state of half consciousness, of darkness; an overwhelming feeling of loneliness and exhaustion has emerged through a new deep love", confided the musician after a concert of wonderful tightrope walker fragility.
What is this love that makes us both alone and more present at the same time? A way of composing, alternately padded and harshly crossed by friction and ephemeral "dissonances". Without overflow, Ashley Paul dissolves an intuitive process at the heart of an intimate introspection of which there is hardly any equivalent outside the universe of autofiction.
Thus on Breathless Air, the spirit of the poetic and carnal maternity journal by Maggie Nelson, The Argonauts, hovers. And his body in breaths and inner spaces rediscovered. Draughts, compact things too, indivisible. Ashley Paul then plays with Ashley Paul an experience of being from which all of society separates us. A deep yes.
Black and white concert photo: Laurent Orseau. Color portrait photo: Jenny Berger Myhre