Last Call at Nightowls – Ask the Dust Review

Last Call at Nightowls - Ask the Dust 01There is something special about music created by artists who must collaborate with each other from afar rather than together in person. Take the short-lived yet beloved synth-pop duo, The Postal Service. Two artists, electronic musician and DJ Jimmy Tamborello of Los Angeles and Ben Gibbard, singer of the indie band Death Cab for Cutie, of Seattle decided to collaborate with each other undeterred by the distance between them. Jimmy and Ben overcame said distance by sending recordings back and forth via, no joke, the United States Postal Service. I find this mode of collaboration endearing, and I still hold The Postal Service‘s one album Give Up near and dear to my heart. Dark ambient doom-jazz band Last Call at Nightowls followed the same formula The Postal Service employed to create their debut album Ask the Dust. While I presume Ask the Dust was created by sharing recordings via a more modern form of file sharing than snail mail, the 4 members of Last Call at Nightowls nevertheless had to overcome the fact that the band spans three continents, making it infeasible for them to write music together in person, to put together their first album.

Last Call at Nightowls is comprised of an Italian maestro, a Mexican saxophonist, and two Australian instrumentalists. On their first album, Last Call at Nightowls have put together forty minutes of dark and austere doom-jazz. In their own words, Ask the Dust is an “obscure journey in the middle of the night for men and women, […] between dream and nightmare chasing the omens of the black owl.” Terry and Maria’s dance with the tenor saxophone takes center stage on the album, permeating all seven tracks with sounds ranging from dark and melancholic (“Latigo”) to delicately romantic (“My Distant Dream”). Though vocals only appear on one track (“La Llorona”), Ask the Dust makes up for the lack of lyrical content with a wide array of strange synths and samples including spine-chilling snarls (“Humeda”), mysterious cyclical swooshing (“Ask the Dust”), and even bird chirps (“Latigo”).

The distant bubbling at the beginning of “My Distant Dream” gives off the aura of what I imagine lounging in an upscale underwater cocktail bar would sound like. On “La Llorona,” Spanish for “the weeping woman,” what sounds like an EBow emerges along with the introduction of the sole vocals on the album. I am a big proponent of how the EBow sounds, and I’ve played around with one a bit myself after being gifted one for Christmas. I was stoked to hear one on this album, but I grew disappointed as the part drew on, sloppy and aimless.

Last Call at Nightowls - Ask the Dust 02Overall, I feel the same sentiment towards Ask the Dust as a whole as I do towards the EBow part in “La Llorona.” Numerous other tracks on the album felt unintentionally directionless and lacking in structure as well, notably “Cold in my Veins” and the second half of “My Distant Dream.” Perhaps this is in part due to the difficulties of collaborating on music with band mates residing literally thousands of miles away.

Ask the Dust is intended to catch the eye of fans of Bohren & der Club of Gore, The Mount Fuji Doomjazz Corporation, and The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, all three of which are groups I’ve come across now on more than one occasion but have not yet had a chance to carefully listen to. Due to the geographic diversity of Last Call at Nightowls‘s members, a broad set of sounds and influences can be heard on their first album. While their debut was overall a letdown for me, Ask the Dust just might be for you if you’re in search of some perplexing dark jazz.

Rating: 2.5/5.0
DR: 5 | Format Reviewed: 320 kbps mp3
Label: Subsound Records
Releases Worldwide: March 6th, 2020

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