After her life was shattered by a “messy divorce,” Ashe released “Moral of the Story: Chapter 1,” an EP that captured the indie-pop artist trying to piece her life back together with honesty and optimism as her glue.
Now though, ahead of her first headlining tour dates, the EP’s sequel finds the singer with more confidence and vulnerability that might just steal Ariana Grande’s ponytailed Goddess of Goodness title (save for the ponytailed part, of course) as she rises from tragedy and cheap shots with beauty in her heart.
Produced once again by FINNEAS (yes, he can create normal-sounding, non-Billie-Eilish music), “Moral of the Story: Chapter 2” exists within the same sunshine-filled sonic landscape as her prior.
In fact, you could probably splice album opener “In Disguise” with the chorus of “Shitty Places, Pretty Faces” without losing that feeling of beachside highway coasting, the sea breeze exuding the same laidback self-assurance of Ashe’s lyrics: “The only thing you have to do is follow / Your heart / In the end.”
The message can seem a bit trite, like those random “I don’t know who needed to hear this…” text-posts on Instagram’s Explore page that can seem like a world-changing panacea or eye-rolling truism depending on your mood, but as her airy la’s sway along with the passing trees in the bridge, it becomes difficult to resist the Californian warmth.
“Cold in California,” as the title entails, is the exact opposite. Here the Hollywood spell of “happiness and skinny legs / And living on a hill” that Ashe reminisces of in the bridge is finally broken, and the only sound that seems to be missing is the rain pitter-pattering in time with the guitar’s melody.
Simple joys become forlorn memories that hurt to remember, but even more to let go of in not just lyrics (“We could dance in the street / With the sun upon our skin / And wake up feeling burned”), but also in the minutia — the way “California” is turned in slow-motion, Ashe holding onto the lingering aftertaste of the word in her mouth after dragging out its vowel in mourning.
It makes the ritardando — gradual decrease in tempo — before the last guitar chord even more poignant, like trying to hold onto the innocence of happiness before it all fades away into a vague blur.
“Immature” and “Not How It’s Supposed To Go” close out the EP afterwards despite how different the two tracks are. A piano ballad to growing pains, the former is a confession on escapism (“Just to get away and pretend I’m free / From responsibility”) and shortcomings (“I’ll stop making excuses / And start making it better / But I’m too immature for that”) that every fresh-out-of-college 20-something struggles with.
And the truth is no easier to come to terms with as Ashe grapples with a need for validation and becomes fickle on the bridge: “I want love / But I don’t / But I do.” “Not How It’s Supposed To Go” stands in stark contrast, the brain conquering the heart rather than the other way around.
“He might see you bleed / All these expectations, please,” Ashe sings in a cloyingly-bright Chipmunk Voice to mock outdated standards of love, a satire you couldn’t have imagined from the two tracks prior.
But that’s also the whole point, the moral of the story — to be unapologetic, real, through the bitter truths, heartfelt confessions and everything in between.