The Northern Irish punk-pop trio Ash were tentatively formed in 1989, when childhood mates Tim Wheeler and Mark Hamilton received guitars for Christmas and established a metal act named Vietnam. Following a handful of shows, Vietnam adopted the Ash moniker in 1992 and added Rick "Rock" McMurray on drums. The musicians shared a love for the raw British punk of the Buzzcocks and crafted their musical talents to take the Brit-pop scene by storm at the start of the decade. NME was soon swooning over these "teen punkers from Belfast," and by 1994 Ash had signed with Infectious Records and issued the Trailer EP.
Ash's glossy youth was undoubtedly alluring, yet the band's Irish roots exuded a bit of American flair similar to the likes of Pavement and the Lemonheads. Wheeler, Hamilton, and McMurray weren't even out of high school before three of their singles hit the Top Five in the U.K. indie charts. A year later, Ash made their full-length debut with 1977 and set their sights on America, having inked a deal with Reprise Records. Named in honor of the year Star Wars was released, 1977 displayed Wheeler and Hamilton's full-fledged love for all things extraterrestrial and science fiction-related; the record also flaunted sharp guitar hooks and exact production work by Owen Morris (Oasis, New Order, Paul Weller). Ash took to headlining major festivals -- T in the Park, Glastonbury, Roskilde, and Reading -- and playing club dates across the globe. In fall 1997, female guitarist Charlotte Hatherley was added to the previously all-male lineup, marking a change in the band's sound and image.
With a new bandmate aboard, Ash underwent a maturation during the late '90s, as their sound featured heavier guitars and a gritty lyrical shift. The band's sophomore effort, Nu-Clear Sounds (1998), featured the work of Garbage's Butch Vig (Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana) at the mixing board, but it also resulted in mixed reviews. NME turned on the band, criticizing Ash's new sound as "terrifying, ghoulrawk thrashnik deathcore noiseterrior sultans of satanic verse" in August 1998. Harsh words and reviews notwithstanding, Ash forged ahead with Free All Angels (released in April 2001, although it didn't even see a U.S. release until the following summer) and 2005's Meltdown, which marked the band's first stateside release for the Record Collection label. Charlotte Hatherley announced her departure from the band one year later, having logged nearly a decade with the group. Ash forged ahead as a trio and released Twilight of the Innocents in 2007, claiming that the album would be their last. Interestingly enough, they also assured their fans that they were not breaking up; instead, the group would only release singles in response to consumer trends. Starting in 2009, the band began the A-Z Series, releasing a new single every two weeks until all 26 singles were released. The following year they released A-Z: Vol. 1, which collected singles A through M.~ MacKenzie Wilson, Rovi