Greg Ashley is the latest in a proud crop of creaky, surrealistic troubadours like Devendra Banhart and our very own Joanna Newsom; he lays down twisted, dust-in-the-sun ditties in the tradition of Skip Spence or Syd Barrett. But though Ashley’s voice actually bears a strong resemblance to Banhart’s, he steers away from the fantastic in his lyrics, forgoing terrapins and pumpkin seeds for Bible- and blues-infused tales of ladies and love. The Oakland-by-way-of-Houston singer-songwriter sings about box wine, lipstick, murder, and weed, his guitar and soft vocals sounding as if they’re being transmitted from the bottom of a well lined with mirrors.
The opening track on Medicine Fuck Dream is the lushest by far, with skronky sax starting it off, and piano following Ashley’s voice like an enabling housemate. Other songs feature minimal, almost distracted instrumentation — somnambulant percussion, scatting harmonica, a maraca coiling like a rattlesnake in the distance — but they underscore his lovelorn mumblings perfectly. Most songs are downtempo, with only a Hank Williams cover (“Lost Highway”), a badass Dylanesque road trip stomper (“Apple Pie and Genocide”), and a Tin Pan Alley-style collaboration with Austin’s John Johnson (“I Said ‘These Are Lonely Days'”) breaking up the reverie with any pep at all. But this isn’t the kind of music you look to for vim or vigor. Greg Ashley is the one you come to when you’re lonely, lazy, heartsick, or some wallow-worthy combination of all three.