A Sunny Day in Glasgow sound sort of like the echo of a great pop band, disembodied from its primary source. Or perhaps like the murmurs of an amazing party wafting over from two backyards down. The protean Philadelphia group’s second album, Ashes Grammar, is so beautiful and disorienting that a dodgy simile is the default reaction. Working with much more limited scope, ringleader Ben Daniels fashioned ASDIG’s 2007 debut as a hazy memory of college radio, with chiming guitars bursting through pretty vocal fog and obtuse IDM detours. Its follow-up drifts further away from rock music, with an organically schizo emphasis on dance rhythms and blissed-out room tones. Both utilize countless layers of upbeat, ghostly and achingly lovely vocals, which can be tough to make out, but not because they were run through the sludge of late-00s lo-fi. Faded melodies are swirled together with painstaking design to achieve a sound that’s immaculately inscrutable. The distance in even the most pop moments recalls the pristine chill of vintage Stereolab at their least kraut-sinister.
Ashes Grammar carries an intimidating bulk: 22 tracks of songs, fragments, preludes and digressions reside within its almost willfully unfashionable 63-minute running time. It’s atypically structured, buffering longer pop compositions with throbbing ambient ebbs. Rather than filler, these embedded reflecting ponds of tone and melody often reveal themselves as pertinent to the more developed songs—it’s a wonder, for example, when “Lights” suddenly blinks into the blurred neon Gui Boratto techno of “Passionate Introverts (Dinosaurs).” But the saturating stillness can’t match up to the sublimity of fully realized stunners like the haunted, haunting “Close Chorus” (laid to tape as the last bits of a hurricane pelted the empty New Jersey dance studio where the band recorded). The nearly subliminal nature of the LP’s intricate countermelodies might be better studied on separate sides of its double vinyl version, rather than attempted in one exhaustive piece. A modern listener’s attention span might eventually wane, but Ashes Grammar ’s quality never really does. It’s an epic antidote to the creeping half-assedness of independent music at the decade’s end.