We were first introduced to Kennedy Ashlyn as half of Them Are Us Too, the Bay Area dream-pop duo who built stunning and luxurious soundscapes that garnered more than a few comparisons to Cocteau Twins. (These comparisons were, at surface, fair, but failed to capture the pair’s uniqueness—the range of Ashlyn’s voice, the way she worked harmoniously with Cash Askew’s luminous guitar work, and so forth.) In the great tragedy of the Ghost Ship fire, Askew was lost to the world. There was a posthumous release, the lovely Amends, which offered a glimpse at how Them Are Us Too were growing before their time was cut short; they’d been a group with so much life in them. Ashlyn took time to mourn, and struck out on her own when she was ready with her solo project, SRSQ.
Unreality is SRSQ’s first release, and it feels like less a departure from Them Are Us Too than a flowering branch from its tree. Ashlyn’s swooping soprano is as adept as ever, and the melodies plumb similar dark, sparkling territory as on Remain and Amends; they have the aspect and preciousness of an amethyst geode. On A-side tracks like “Cherish” and “Procession,” she sets her voice against warm, pulsing analog synths and ticking drum machines. On the B-side, things get chillier and shadowy, cavernous and discordant. “No Reason,” with its bed of hissing static and repeated refrain, leads into the stunning “Permission,” in which Ashlyn’s voice, processed in ways it’s never been before and reaching registers both higher and deeper, feels like the hierophant in an esoteric yet cathartic dancefloor ritual. The album is indelibly marked with Ashlyn’s love for Askew, and her grief and loss—many of the tracks feel thematically as if she’s still got so much to work through, which is completely understandable. Yet what better tribute, or way to honor what Askew brought to their partnership, than for Ashlyn to move forward, carrying what they began together and developing it in her way? Unreality is beautiful, and emotionally affecting, and it feels carefully wrought, the kind of spellwork where all of the ingredients need to be exactly measured and every word precisely pronounced. (We know, partially, because the magic in its sound is immediately evident.)