Ashley Shadow winks at darkness, but she won’t lead you towards it. It’s easy to fall under the spell of Ashley’s haunting voice. The Vancouver, B.C.-based songwriter forged her own identity as a songwriter with 2016’s eponymous self-titled debut.
Her sophomore effort, Only the End (2021), maintains the moody introspection that is ingrained in Pacific Northwest life, but now comes armed with a palpable hope complementing her signature melancholy. “I wanted to make a more upbeat album, something you could play with some friends over. Some of the songs I wrote were initially bummers, but when we went to record them, we lighened them up.”
Balancing a couple of jobs and navigating life and love in increasingly unstable times, the album was written over two years by Ashley at her apartment. Her confident vibrato above lightly, distorted guitars mirrors the album’s theme of resilience, if not triumph, over adversity. There is comfort in these warm songs that endorse the realism of contented acceptance, rather than the naïve search for non-existent utopias.
While the songs were conceived in contemplative solitude, Ashley invited some very capable collaborators for their journey into the studio.
"Don’t Slow Me Down" reunites Ashley with Bonnie Prince Billy for the first time on record when she sang vocals on Bonnie's Lie Down In Light album in 2018. They intertwine joyful melodies, celebrating the perspective experience brings as they “outran the darkness and shook off the cold/taking back feeling from all it controlled.” In “Grey”, she sings, “Grey took over the sky/far too much to think about, don’t try.”
However, any temptation to wallow is countered by Colin Cowan’s (Elastic Stars) buoyant French-pop bass line and a dancing pedal steel played by Paul Rigby (Neko Case). In “For Love,” shuffling drums by producer Joshua Wells (Black Mountain, Lightning Dust) make good on the promise that “the storms will clear and birds will sing/be ready and willing for what it can bring.” Ryan Beattie (Himalayan Bear) lifts a guitar solo from Laurel Canyon in “I Will Remember,” its jangle answering her request to “come and show me through the darkest of nights.”
Ashley’s first album saw her take center stage after more than a decade of gracing friends’ projects in a supporting role. The move to the front was a cautious one. “First record was, can I do a solo album? This time, I know what I’m doing. It’s way more clear.”
It’s clear to anyone listening. It’s Only the End. If only all endings were so glorious.