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step outside the window (Porch Songs)

Music by Ashton Carless
Written by Brandon Yung

Just outside Ashton Carless’ bedroom window sits a platform of sun bleached wood, just big enough to sit a coffee table and some beat up chairs. It was the spot, where over the course of the summer, Ashton finished his first album, Porch Songs.

Everything about the sounds in the 9 track album tells the story of its conception. The iPhone voice memo app picks up the crumpling of pages, lips being licked, and the sentimental rub of the guitar.

The music is folk, and Ashton, informed by his artistic obsession with folk artists such as Bob Dylan and Hank Williams, follows the route of the timeless troubadour archetype. The strumming style is accented with a thumb plucking that sets the pace for (most of) the songs, all of which deal with sadness– or, as Carless specified, the blues. “It just sounds less bitchy.”

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Each piece is a small self-portrait, telling stories of a struggle depression and heartbreak. It seems that some of the pieces could have been written right after a demoralizing event, the song serving as an outlet to process emotion. Carless’ voice is soft, sometimes hesitantly finding its pitch, words at times almost hummed instead of sang, begging you to lean in closer. All throughout, the organic plucking and strumming of the guitar adds to the wandering line between self-expression and self-reflection.

The influence and orthodoxy to the tradition of folk is apparent in songs like “Medication Blues,” which portrays the modern plight of antidepressants through the lexicon of a Great Depression-era tramp. Other songs pay homage. Daniel Johnston’s “True Love Will Find You In The End” maintains the same rough, troubled yet hopeful tone as Johnston’s original. “He Was A Friend Of Mine” is a love song to the countless folk singers who covered the tune before, a passage into the canon of the troubled artist, singing his woes into the campfire.

The album concludes with a recording of an English pub chant titled “Grandma’s Friends.” The unintelligible chorus fades in, a kind of elegy or thank you note to not only Carless’ familial and cultural roots, but to the working class foundation of folk music. He explained that the chant was practiced while a mug was thrown across the pub, caught and eventually passed back to the thrower.

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