There once was an ugly duckling. This duckling performed some really out-there live performances, estranging great swathes of his audience in the process. Someone saw beauty in the ugly duckling, however, and took the bird in, nurturing it, giving it proper studio time, and a record deal. Before, the duckling had been making cassette tapes to hand out at raves held by hipster beavers, and is quoted to have said, "Being able to say 'Hey check out this cassette tape' is a lot cooler than just saying 'Hey, check out this SoundCloud.'' Eventually, the record was complete, and the ugly duckling looked at its reflection in a mirror, and saw that it had turned into a phoenix. The phoenix burst into flames, and those ashes were then used to create a diamond, the like of which no-one had ever seen (this was in a small village in the Congo, where no-one had really seen diamonds before - they didn't even have MySpace). The morale of this parable is that even an ugly duckling, who performs seemingly crummy live-shows, can be burnt and made into an attractive paperweight. Or, just that Axxa/Abraxas has made a really impressive debut, which I'm not sure anyone expected.

Axxa/Abraxas is Ben Asbury, signed to Captured Tracks, and his self-titled debut is a lovely nod to his sonic predecessors, whilst managing to make something fresh and riveting. It's certainly an album that takes a little work to crack, and that work centres around Asbury's unique vocal performances. He's got a few different tacts: a wild croon, shushed falsetto, and a spirited, lullaby-esque delivery, each one needing time to settle into the album's grooves. The strongest parts of his singing are where we see the vocal line layered up, as it bolsters the overall sound really well, along-side the lo-fi filter. For example, on the second track, 'Going Forth', the vocals manage to come off as reminiscent of Elliott Smith, but with a more psychedelic edge. This psychedelic edge also gives the album some of its most entertaining moments. Third track, 'I Almost Fell', pitches swirling vocals around hazy guitar lines, and feels really 60s in its construction. And ending this three track run of psychedelic hues is 'Beyond the Wind', a track which feels very early-Rolling Stones, for sure.

The latter half of the album offers up a bit more variation, and shows another side to Asbury, where we begin to glimpse more his alternative influences. There is definitely an Elephant 6 vibe throughout this second half more, 'Ride Into the Night' highlighting this best, with its mesh of genres and sounds leading to one of the more interesting tracks on the record. 'Painted Blue' gives Asbury a canvas to paint his Technicolor guitar licks over, and is all the better for it, as time signatures are toyed with throughout. This is a fun record, and these moments where expectations are re-cast are really to Asbury's credit.

There are some rough moments, however. 'On the Run' takes some garage-rock cues, which feel a tad out of place on the latter half of the album. The opener, 'Ryan Michalak (Is Coming to Town)', still doesn't feel right after the umpteenth listen, and is pretty out of keeping with the next few tracks that follow. The album closer, 'All That's Passed' has some lovely guitar riffs, but you'd kinda wish it exploded a bit more, or at least had some more varied dynamics. Overall, however, this is a really strong debut record, and it's clear to see the work that's gone into getting these tracks to this point. The track which deserves particular mention is the fantastic 'Same Signs'. It's a wonderful piece of songwriting: delicate, nuanced, and peppered with some really lovely moments. It's well worth the price of entry alone, and showcases Asbury's strengths in a two-and-a-half minute sliver.

The surprising feeling I have when I put this record on is that it's a shame there aren't more people like Axxa/Abraxas making music like this. But at least we have someone who is clearly in love with the music he makes. This is something that shines throughout this debut record, and becomes the album's greatest strength.