Thursday, January 30, 2014

My Personal Take On The New Throwing Muses Record

She would put the "Purgatory" part of the equation first, wouldn't she?

The Purgatory/Paradise album from Throwing Muses found its way to Kowloon. And then I took it home with me even farther out, to Lamma Island.

(Where I perched it on that balcony railing one sunny morning and tried to get that pic with the South China Sea off in the distance.)

This new release from Throwing Muses is at once a book and a CD, as well as a link to downloads of more goodies (commentary and instrumental tracks). Put out via Harper Collins, I suppose you could say that it leans towards the book side of that equation but there are tunes on a shiny disc inside. A lot of tunes, actually.

I can now see why Kristin's label/publisher told me, after I attempted to get a download of this for my review, that the release was best appreciated in its entirety. You have to get the whole package.

(An enormous "Thank You!" to Cicely Aspinall at The Friday Project at Harper Collins for getting this album to me all the way here in Hong Kong!)

What to make of this record?

All the reviews out there on the Internet are harping on about the fact that this is the first Throwing Muses album in 10 years -- and, for the record, all the band pics in this review are from when I saw Throwing Muses in D.C. in late 2011; they weren't making Muses albums but they were sure busy making music in those 10 years -- and it is significant that Kristin Hersh has broken out the Throwing Muses name to create music so unlike the last time she made music as one of the Muses.

Purgatory/Paradise is so different than that last record. It's a set of slices -- 32 of them, to be precise -- that ripple, ebb and flow, nag and soothe, and then do it all over again. Songs start and stop where you least expect them to and nothing overstays its welcome.

In some weird way, it's as radical a release as that first Muses record however many decades ago that was. If Kristin's pipes can't let her vocally shred like she did on "Hate My Way" anymore, she can at least thrill and amaze us in other ways. In subdue and subversive ways on the 32 cuts of Purgatory/Paradise.

And right when it might seem as if the book/CD package was too heavy, too very-nearly-precious, you can download the bonus commentary and listen to her and heroic drummer David Narcizo ramble around and nearly avoid talking about the songs.

The songs are the work. It's significant to anyone that's ever tried to create something that Kristin doesn't pepper that commentary with Sting-like shit about being inspired by the rain forest or helping to preserve the dodo.

You want the meaning? Check the tunes. The very seriousness of Kristin and Dave as musicians is evident by how unserious they are on the commentary track. I dig that.

And I didn't mention stalwart Bernie Georges on bass 'cause the cat ain't on the commentary. But his bass is all over this record. He's the anchor more than ever.

"Morning Birds 1" is all snake-y bass-lines, crazy marching band drums, and Fripp-in-the-West guitar snarl. It's not the first track on the record but it's the first full-bodied one, I think.

You have to listen to Purgatory/Paradise in a different way. It's a lotta music. It's 32 cuts and more than an hour of tunes.

It's like a soundtrack to a fantastic film that Kristin found and sang over.

Perhaps the worst way to review this record -- (does it even all fit onto a vinyl LP?) -- would be to go track-by-track and give my thoughts. That would be way stupid.

The best I can do is grab something in the bag of songs and highlight it: "Sleepwalking 2" comes before "Sleepwalking 1" -- it's that kind of album -- and both punch you in the eardrums. The early-coming reprise is all menace and the "real" song is all strut and Gang of Four-guitar toned down a bit.

"Lazy Eye" is side two of Hunkpapa but older, wiser, and jazzed up and out. It's Hendrix-y in spots even...but like the trippy bits, not the guitar-wail bits from Jimi.

"Slippershell" hits back at the lyrical concerns about islands and beach-y stuff. It's a great song and catchy in an odd way, the way that Kristin Hersh and her Throwing Muses can only be.

Stopping myself from meandering all through the 32 songs on the record and boring you senseless with my words when you could be listening to the record, I should mention something about the book. The hardback book -- (printed in China, of course! As I'm typing this looking at the South China Sea, that seems funny to me) -- is nicely designed and contains the lyrics to the songs, track details, and Kristin's written bits on each tune. Some of the stories are fantastic. I haven't tried to read these stories of Texas raving hippies and glitter t-shirts and blood all together with the tunes playing in the background but I think it might work.

I think Kristin Hersh has made personal music again. She has a very rare ability to make the sort of personal music that connects deeply with people and yet you can't quite explain that music to another person. If they aren't on this wavelength or don't react in some way to these sounds, then your words ain't gonna help much either.

I've lived in New Orleans (Pearl River, Louisiana, to be exact) and I live on an island (Lamma Island) off the coast of another island (Hong Kong Island) and I work on a peninsula (Kowloon) so I certainly felt a connection to this talk of water, oceans, and shells.

There's no way I couldn't react so personally to this record since I unwrapped the set as I rode a ferry home to Lamma. I'm sitting there reading Kristin's words about living on an island while I was riding home to mine. So I was primed to connect with Purgatory/Paradise even before I played it.

So I guess what I'm saying is that there was no way I was capable of writing a detached, newspaper-like review of this record. Throwing Muses stuff just don't work for me like that. I've been listening to this band for more than a quarter of a century now and they just hit a nerve at the right time of my life and their tunes keep on hitting that nerve. Maybe the sort of stuff that rocked me at 19 -- "Hate My Way" -- is now the stuff of an older and wiser -- (hate that term) -- person. Or maybe Kristin Hersh has progressed from that white-hot intensity to something more in her own control...I don't know.

I do know that Purgatory/Paradise works for me. Get the whole package. "Buy the book, see the film!" and all that jazz. It's a rare treat from one of America's truly gifted artists.

When I heard the first Throwing Muses album sometime back in 1987, it went right up there on a mental shelf for me next to Patti Smith's Easter. And I'm pretty sure that some day more people will see things that way.

For now, it's the ever-expanding Cult of Kristin. We've been touched. We've drunk her Kool-Aid.

But, guess what? Purgatory/Paradise is sneakily subversive. Play it all at once or in bits and pieces or while reading the book. It's perhaps the most impressive and substantial whole piece of work from Kristin Hersh and Throwing Muses in ages and, for that reason, it should be cherished, whether you bought your copy at a cool mom-and-pop record store -- (are there any other kinds left?) -- or if you got it sent in the mail to you all the way in Hong Kong.

Obviously, check out the website for details:

(All pics are mine and the Throwing Muses shots are from their 2011 set at D.C.'s Black Cat.)