Intentional or not, many people typically have make an unconscious decision to draw comparisons between things they’ve seen or heard before. This makes it harder not for the people who are drawing the comparisons, but rather, the people who the comparisons are drawn for. In a way, it gives them an unfair shake as no matter how nice a person is, how fantastic a band sounds or how great a movie is, the unconscious connection has already been created and most people have already made up their mind. When it comes to music, artists seem to have a very strong comprehension of this which leads to them tirelessly working on their music until it can stand out on its own, which sometimes leads to longer-than-usual periods of waiting. That waiting has come to an end for central Illinois pop rock outfit Ashland who are finally set to release their long-awaited debut album Wildfire and while it’ll draw almost immediately draw comparisons to many female fronted bands, it ultimately manages to stand out on its own and feels wholly unique to who Ashland is.
Female-fronted bands tend to face more scrutiny and comparisons than their male-fronted counterparts, and there will plenty made between Ashland and other well established acts like Paramore, Against the Current and Pvris. While some of these are more apt and make sense than others, the vast majority of them will come from the fact that they all share a lead female singer with a musical backdrop that ranges from soothing alternative to more upbeat, pop rock melodies. It’s pretty clear that they took these comparisons into account as the album opener “Lights Out” sets the tone early that their sound is wholly unique to them. Utilizing a haunting vibe with a high-pitched whir, “Lights Out” explodes into a fully synthesizer backed sound that oozes catchy, modern pop vibes intermixed with some heavier rock aspects throughout, bringing forth an anthemic undertone that sets the stage for what’s to come on Wildfire. This polished sound continues on “For You” which is a more simplistic pop sound that feels entirely at home within a top 40 radio rotation – which is one side of the multifaceted sound that Ashland brings forth.
Some of the other sides of Ashland’s sound on Wildfire are found on tracks “Something Is Broken”, “Got Love”, “Keep Moving” and “Closer”. “Something Is Broken” sees the high-energy approach toned down for a grittier-pop edge that incorporates more of the haunting vibe found in the albumss opener and then the sound immediately switches again with the acoustic ballad “Got Love”. This is the beginnings of where the cracks on Wildfire start to show as the two biggest problems come through within the first four tracks. First, the constant, stylistic shifting from high-energy, polished pop to more atmospheric and toned down musicality ultimately hurts the albums flow and keeps it feeling as a cohesive collection of music. Secondly, the underlying tone throughout all ten tracks feels much darker and haunting than what the music presents to listeners, and while Ashland do darker vibes well as “No Good” shows, it doesn’t seem to fit with what they were trying to deliver sonically.
It’s hard to deny that this is a fun album that will have fans of pop / pop-rock enthralled as the sound is polished and the foundation is solid. At face value, Wildfire is an album that oozes style and strong production and along with it, contains songs that would legitimately feel at home on the radio. Furthermore, Ashland have found a sound that is unique to them which should help them keep the comparisons to other female-fronted bands at bay, which will only help them grow in the future. It simply comes down the underlying problems found beneath that polish and while tracks like “Turn It Up” showcase what Ashland are capable of at their best, it’s the lack of substance that keeps Wildfire from being a truly memorable debut.