Ethan Ash is set to release his new six-track EP Playing By Numbers this October in an attempt to make further inroads in the ever-saturating acoustic male singer-songwriter market. To develop in this environment requires a peculiar edge to set an artist above the masses, and in this new EP, Ash shows some potential to establish himself an identity on the scene. It is not surprising that Ethan was selected to support Ed Sheeran on his 2011 UK Tour due to the obvious similarities between the two artists. The opportunity would have undoubtedly acted as a platform from which to generate a broader fan-base, and this second EP release, Ethan will surely be striving for new heights.
The EP is enhanced through Ash’s collaboration with guitarist and producer Lorenzo De Feo. De Feo has invested significant effort to arrange and produce this record whilst also featuring on guitars, keyboards and backing vocals. His experience from popular shows such as The X Factor, MTV Live Sessions and The Album Chart Show has had a marked positive impact on the quality of the EP – something which must instil confidence in Ash in the build-up to his second official release. The record itself is a stylistically mixed bag, demonstrating the dynamic range that Ash employs with his songwriting. Opening track Make You Smile is a slightly run-of-the-mill feel-good love song. Starting on soft acoustics, the song develops with an upbeat blend of a cheery tune and lyrics of a similar mould. Although undeniably pleasant, Make You Smile does more to buck the trend of its contemporaries rather than start a new one.
The second track on the EP, Wouldn’t Get Through begins to develop a different style, in terms of vocals, and instrumental tunes grounded in funk-pop. Yet Ash uses his third track, No Love In That Bed to revert back to his softer acoustic-driven tone. The song possesses a notable contrast to Make You Smile with a more downbeat character, and lyrical theme. This style is furthered in the next track, Inside, which is perhaps representative of a folk-pop tune with a bleaker demeanour. The middle segment of this EP, although enjoyable, leaves a more ordinary impression than Ash’s talent deserves.
That said, the next song on the EP allow Ash’s vocal talent to shine, and the dramatic alteration in style is the probable cause. Would You Mind develops slowly, but soon exhibits a more interesting amalgamation of instrumentals to compliment Ash’s voice. Although a stylistic anomaly on the EP, Would You Mind presents a spark of potential far stronger than elsewhere on the record. The heavier tones and instrument layering allows Ash to explore his vocal range and display his talent, without adhering to the apparent constraints of the simplistic acoustic style in his other songs. This is perhaps an area in which he might seek to develop in live performances to enrich his unique selling point.
Following this stand-out track, Ash closes his EP with an augmentation of his customary soft and slightly heavier style. Again, experimenting with complexity creates a more interesting product; and one in which Ash’s vocals are allowed to flourish to a greater extent. In just six tracks, Ethan Ash offers an insight his musical progression in the last year, and his own talent combined with an experienced producer presents an interesting finished article. Some elements of Playing By Numbers inevitably fall within the ‘generic’ bracket that looms over artists trying to break their way into the market. However, when Ash attempts more ambitious and experimental vocals, layered above more complex instrumental compositions, he conveys a greater confidence that he can develop his talent further.
Words > Chris Morris