While touring, Ashworth began writing her own tracks, eventually leading to her intensely personal and honest debut album SASAMI, which is informed by reverberating dreamy guitars and lightweight percussion.
However, Ashworth’s second effort, Squeeze, combines the delicate elements of SASAMI with a much heavier and abrasive sound – with traces of Kittie, Chelsea Wolfe, and Poppy to be found in the ferocious guitars that open the album on “Skin A Rat”. The track marks a significant departure from the inoffensive indie guitars of SASAMI, instead drawing similarities to Rina Sawayama’s metal influenced “STFU!” Both songs channel tongue-in-cheek yet assertive feminine rage, with Ashworth singing “In a skin a rat mood / Cut ‘em, crush ‘em / Big, big boot.”
Ashworth hopes that the album will help listeners process “anger, frustration, desperation, and more violent, aggressive emotions.” This is reflected in the album art, depicting Ashworth as the powerful Japanese folk spirit Nure-onna. Although tracks like “Skin a Rat” make the perfect soundtrack for releasing pent-up anger, the following track “The Greatest” is devoid of the spectacular heavy elements of the album’s opener and would sound more at home on SASAMI.
Squeeze packs the biggest punch when Ashworth combines the refined musicality of her earlier work, which is reminiscent of artists such as Mitski (who SASAMI is supporting on her upcoming UK tour) and Sharon Van Etten, with confrontational metal-influenced guitars, resulting in a unique blend of introspective rage. “Sorry Entertainer” is a delightful listen, which takes Daniel Johnston’s track of the same name and transforms it into a seething, distorted cacophony with an addictive guitar solo and demented screaming vocals – undoubtedly the album’s standout track.
One of the album’s mellower moments “Call Me Home” sounds unmistakably like Weyes Blood, with a gorgeous chorus melody where Ashworth sings “I want you to know you’re not alone / I want you to know you can always call me / Home.” Although one of the album’s most beautiful tracks, attempting to bridge the gap between familiar indie and vicious metal guitars, you can’t help but feel like it sounds slightly out of place amongst the visceral guitars and raw vocals that are the centrepiece of the album’s best moments.
Ashworth demonstrates her classical composing abilities on “Feminine Water Turmoil”, a sublime and haunting instrumental piece that effortlessly bleeds into the closing track, “Not a Love Song”. The cinematic-sounding instrumental would make the perfect soundtrack for a dark period drama set on muddy moors – encapsulating a raw and disturbed feminine energy.
A mix of abrasion and delicacy inform Squeeze, thus demonstrating Ashworth’s incredible musical talents, which deserve considerably more widespread recognition. Despite each track standing incredibly strong on its own, it sometimes feels as though Ashworth is taking on more than the album can handle. A more decisive sound and Squeeze could be one of the best albums of the year, however, Ashworth’s indecision pulls the listener from one emotion to the next without ample time for digestion.