When you press play on Ashe’s sophomore album, Rae, you’re met with a suite that feels like something Lauren Bacall could slink down a hallway to in a black-and-white world, full of mystique and sensual energy.
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As the final trills of “Rae’s Theme” comes to a close, and the proverbial curtain is lifted on Rae, you fall into something entirely different with “Another Man’s Jeans” – biting, anthemic pop that would likely make Bacall blush and feels distinctly current.
That juxtaposition is exactly what the 29-year-old pop phenom was going for. As a friend remarked to her after listening to the LP, “it simultaneously feels modern and also 50 years old.” To Ashe, that comment is an indication that her work feels classic and has the potential to remain so for years to come.
It’s an assumption we can’t refute. Rae feels lived in despite being out in the world for less than a month. It’s easy to melt into this album and forget how many times you’ve hit “replay.” It feels like an old favorite you’ve brought back out and are able to listen to with new ears. It’s a unique position for a new album to be in, but, then again, Ashe is a unique artist.
Despite making her full debut in 2021, the California native has amassed a well-feted group of admirers – Brian Wilson, Niall Horan, and Diane Keaton to name a few. Keaton is such a fan, in fact, she reached out to the singer for a potential collab. One that came to fruition on a penultimate track on Rae – the charmingly wistful “Love is Letting Go”
“I thought I was being catfished. I thought ‘no way I’m getting on the phone with Diane Keaton,'” Ashe tells American Songwriter. “She’s just the most precious, wonderful human in the world.”
Befriending famous actresses aside, the main pursuit for Ashe on Rae was honesty. Like her debut, Ashlyn, she named the record after herself in an effort to bare all of her shades across the 14 tracks.
“I love the honesty and the freedom using my own name gave me,” she says. “This album is a glimpse into who I am as an artist and the space I was in when I worked on this album. It’s exactly the sound I wanted to go for.”
Part of that pursuit of honesty includes letting her sexual nature drive things for a bit. Even looking at the album covers for Ashlyn and Rae, the evolution is clear to see. “I’m playing around with new colors and textures. It’s definitely a sexier era,” she adds.
Tracks like the Tik-Tok-approved “Another Man’s Jeans” and the airy “San Jose,” lean heavily into her desires that she may have tried to subdue in previous releases.
While she’s painting the town red in those songs, elsewhere she lets herself feel a little blue. In “Shower With My Clothes On” and “Hope You’re Not Happy,” Ashe delves into heartbreak with a marked frankness.
In moments she even finds herself somewhere in the middle, on the bittersweet precipice of something new. This is the scenario in “omw” (on my way), a shuffling groove that Ashe dubbed the “fun version of Miley Cyrus’ ‘The Climb.'”
“It has just such a hopeful nature,” she says. “It talks about being on the verge. We’re forever on our way and I just loved how that idea made me feel.”
One single from the record, “Angry Woman” ended up being a rallying cry amid the aftermath of the overturning of Roe V. Wade. Because it happened serendipitously, having released the track a few days prior to the court’s decision, Ashe feels like it was the universe playing its hand.
“I think we artists should tread lightly on saying things like ‘I’m the voice of my generation or a particular issue.’ It will end up putting far too much pressure and anxiety on the creative process,” she says.
“Going into writing that song, I didn’t have an agenda attached to it,” she continues. “I just indulged in my anger and made this record. I think the universe does what it does on its own. I think music plays a huge role in healing and when we play ‘Angry Woman’ live I feel electricity pulsating through the room. It’s like therapy for all of us.”
Therapy is also an apt description for Rae. Having an artist reveal so much of themselves gives the listener license to do the same. Listening to these tracks feels like looking into a mirror and finding a way to like what you see. Ashe is sad, happy, vindictive, hopeful and many more emotions across this record—all while imbuing something seductive into the mix that makes each and every one of them seem valid and infallible.
If Ashe keeps up the same pace she has in the past, we can look forward to more from the singer in the not-so-distant future. If she keeps evolving at the same pace, it will be oh-so-enticing to see where she will lead us next.
Credit: Alex Harper / The Oriel