Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Throwing Muses At Purgatory/Paradise

Kristin Hersh, Throwing Muses
When Kristin Hersh released Crooked three years ago, it set the tone for her next chapter. It has been brisk and productive, with a steady stream of art flowing outward from what she calls her funny-looking, intense and necessary planet of music.

Her continuous creative bursts have become a massive collection of tracks that she has quietly assembled to make the first Throwing Muses album in a decade. Except, it wasn't really quiet.

Hersh has been sharing bits, pieces, demos, and works in progress for weeks and months and years. At times there didn't even seem to be an end in sight — so much so that the first Throwing Muses album in a decade was something she sometimes called Precious/Pretentious behind the scenes.

The name could have been perfect for the release too, but she settled on something more mysterious. Purgatory/Paradise is named after an intersection in Rhode Island. Specifically, it's a bend that takes westbound drivers north past Purgatory Chasm. It's quiet there, a few hundred feet before an ocean front.

Purgatory/Paradise is an impressive collection of intensely intimate music.

The 32-track album plays very much like the area around its namesake. There are soft and intimate discoveries, roaring songs with big surfy crashes, craggy cliffs that invite you to jump, and great big slides that ride along with big swelling waves. All of it strikes a nerve as one of this year's best.

With only a few songs ever passing the three-minute mark, Hersh delivers an all-organic outing that has a physical presence with colors and textures that spins around and sends heads reeling. Some of the most striking standalone tracks include the psychedelically tuned Morning Birds 1, drug-induced surrender of Opiates, and the riveting self-acceptance of Slippershell.

Sunray Venus is a shell, which is the place she and the band retreat to after every world tour. As always, she jokes that her music takes on it a life of its own. It frequently leaves her out of it.

What she isn't left out of it how Purgatory/Paradise is presented. While the album or portions of it can be downloaded, Hersh feels strongly that music was never meant to be compressed on a compact disc. There is so much more to it, something she has framed with essays, photographs, and artwork from her and bandmate Dave Narcizo.

It's very similar to what she set the stage with in producing Crooked but then immediately takes her work past several rungs to an impossible next level. In fact, the 64 pages aren't distilled into whatever could fit between the hardcover. Instead, it swells with instruction for more downloads: exclusive content, demos, and outtakes.

Like all of her work, it's largely funded by fans that range from Strange Angels ($30 per quarter) to Executive Producers (who even receive executive producer credit on her next CD). But that in itself becomes the part of the beauty of her work. Hersh has pioneered the way to make music, minimizing the business aspect and maximizing the art.

The results are arresting. Some tracks are nothing more than teases, interludes, and feelings captured in a couple seconds and then shared with sound. They are joyous, imperfect, painful, and never longer than they need to be to convey precisely what was happening at the moment she got them out.

One of my favorite aspects of how the album is laid out includes split compositions like Smoky Hands, which opens the album with a little over a minute but then comes back around with a :28 second piece that washes over everything with a contemplative instrumental. It happens like that throughout, just the way life works out.

Purgatory/Paradise Is Near Perfect At 9.8 On The Liquid Hip Richter Scale. 

This is arguably the best album release of the year from an artist who has produced something largely unquantifiable in review. Sure, it's easy enough to say that Hersh has simply stayed true to what she considers a Muses tune. There is an expectant tone or groove that chases after her.

But what remains stridently different here isn't a single track or fleeting few seconds of an interlude. Purgatory/Paradise is a remarkable body of work in its totality, not only as an album with 32 tracks but also as an experience as interesting as the artists and musicians they were liberated from, especially from the head of Hersh.

You can find Purgatory/Paradise as a book or as an album on Amazon. You can download Purgatory/Paradise from iTunes. You can also find the book-framed album at Barnes & Noble and follow her on Facebook. If you are equally interested in all her work, you can always become a Strange Angel too.
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