Few records released this year feel so thoroughly of the moment as Static Crash. The collection was created by Ashrae Fax, a quartet that took root in Greensboro but is now spread across North Carolina and Michigan, and it’s both complicated and incredibly catchy. Murky goth-pop melodies transition into perfectly potent choruses abetted my minimal techno throbs and occasional explosions of thunderous noise. It connects popular tangents of indie rock, electronica and mainstream pop in a way that seems utterly effortless, indicating a band that’s plugged into the zeitgeist and willing to twist it without mercy. It’s a perfect fit for 2013’s fraught and fractured musical landscape.
And yet, Static Crash has been around for a decade. Written and recorded between 2001 and 2002, Ashrae Fax slapped it onto a limited, pretty much friends-only run of CD-Rs in 2003. In the years that followed, it was mostly forgotten.
There was a cassette release in 2005, but that didn’t really grab much attention. A 2011 vinyl reissue by the N.C. imprint Hot Releases garnered ink from a few blogs, but it was a small run that mostly came and went. Then, last June — on her brother’s birthday — singer Renee Mendoza received a call from Brooklyn’s Mexican Summer. The chic indie label, home to hot commodities Ariel Pink and Oneohtrix Point Never, wanted to reissue Static Crash nationally. When she told them that Ashrae Fax had also produced a few EPs, they offered to release those as well. Mendoza was blown away.
“It was kind of a dream phone call,” she recalls. “Every musician sort of fantasizes about what they would say if someone was interested in their music. For me, that fantasy happened a long time ago. It wasn’t really something that I was thinking about at all. It was really very weird, surreal and sort of misplaced, but kind of awesome anyway.”
The timing was admittedly odd. Mendoza now lives in Durham. She’s happily married to Brian Haran, with whom she led Filthybird for 8 years, a band that utilized her serenely soaring pipes as the lifeblood for ethereal folk-rock. Now they’re in a 3-piece experimental jazz band called Ama Divers. Alex Chesney, Mendoza’s principle partner in Ashrae, still resides in Greensboro, but his musical focus — expressed as Faster Detail — has shifted to circuit-scorching lo-fi techno. The others have drifted further. Guitarist Mike Soter is a farmer in Tobaccoville. Bassist Robert Parker is a graduate student in Michigan. In the 10 years since Static Crash was first released they’ve settled into new jobs and new lives. They’re different people.
But that hasn’t stopped them from seizing this opportunity. Despite the geography and the years that have parted them, they’re reuniting for a spate of shows this fall. Some will support Never Really Been Into It, a new album that finds Mendoza and Chesney reworking material they conceived as Ashrae Fax was ending. Mexican Summer will release it in October.
“It’s what I did when I was 20, so it’s like instantly fun,” Mendoza says of Ashrae’s rebirth. “It’s what we were all doing when we were coming of age. It’s an instant kind of flashback to that era and all of the good feelings and all of the excitement about life and not knowing what’s going to happen next. But it’s also intimidating because back then it was sleeping on the floors of weird spaces and drinking every day and every night and living off of nothing and making art all the time and somehow surviving. Now it’s a day job and ‘How am I going to pay the bills?’”
It might be daunting, but the quartet can rely on songs that sound just as fresh as they did in 2003. Take “Daddystitch.” The insistent single corrupts its jovial New Wave beat with sheets of gloomy synthesizer and dense vocal overdubs. Mendoza keeps things balanced, slicing through with a hook so sharp it could cut through any onslaught. Like the rest of Static Crash, it builds on influences that have grown into modern touchstones. Ashrae Fax were ahead of their time. Thankfully, it didn’t pass them by.
“It definitely feels sort of cool to see that all these kids that are 22 now are really into the shit that we were into when we were 22,” Mendoza offers. “In some sort of way, we bridge a gap between the people that we were emulating and really loved and the people that love that too. It’s kind of cool to feel like maybe we have a little bit of a place in that timeline, that that music never really stops being made. It just maybe isn’t as popular.”
Ashrae Fax plays The Odditorium on Friday, Aug. 30. For more information, visit http://ashevilleodditorium.com.