In his debut single, titled “What Really Matters,” songwriter Dan Ashley looks back at a wild life’s most valuable lessons as learned through the lens of a journalist, and while this is only the first look that we’ve collectively had at his unique style of play, it’s a formidable summer offering for adult contemporary pop fans both casual and serious alike. Through buoyant beats and a supple melody that grows all the more sterling with each and every verse, “What Really Matters” does everything that its title would imply it should inside of a simple, four-minute jam.
Guitar grooves are as expressive as the words that Dan Ashley sings to us are in this track, and though the string parts bear a sonic resemblance to a classic rock sound, I wouldn’t describe them as being overly retro in the least. The timbre of Ashley’s vocal complements the beefy tonality of the riffs, and were either component deprived of the elegant finish that they received in the mastering process here, they probably wouldn’t be as hypnotic as they are in this well-appointed mix. This single seems to be the product of precise handiwork behind the soundboard, which isn’t always the case in virgin material.
The textures that the melody produces are really muscular for a soft rock composition like this one, but they’re not quite as overindulgent as some of the similarly stylized recordings I’ve heard lately have been. If Dan Ashley’s goal was to stimulate us with every aspect of this song, he did a pretty good job of assembling “What Really Matters” to do just what he had hoped it would – when his lyrics are lashing us with their cathartic conveyances, the instrumentation is filling the air with just as much evocative passion certain to stoke a reaction out of anyone who happens to be listening.
Ashley’s vocal is the most surreal layer of this mix, and more often than not, it’s a beacon of optimism amid the darkness that the descending harmonies create as we exit the chorus. His execution is incredible, his confidence is infectious, and even when the song is throwing him difficult ridges that most singers would struggle in grappling with, he never flinches for a moment. After hearing how skilled he is in this effort, one really has to wonder how good he’ll be after getting a full-length album under his belt.
If “What Really Matters” is just a sampling of what’s to come next from the Dan Ashley camp, you can definitely sign me up for more from this talented singer/songwriter. There aren’t a lot of old fashioned storytellers of this strain actively recording and playing gigs in the American underground these days, and provided Ashley continues to make music on par with what he has here, he’s going to find himself quite the sizeable audience of audiophiles who have been hungry for an artist of his kind for a long time now. I’ll be keeping an eye on his progress, and I’d tell anyone who cares about modern melodicism to do the same.