|Throwing Muses — Purgatory/Paradise (November 11, 2013)|
Throwing Muses — Purgatory/Paradise ♣ Acclaimed alternative band with a swirling, guitar–based rush of sound matched to Kristin Hersh’s cryptic, metaphoric lyrics and highly emotive voice.
Formed: 1983 in Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
Location: Atlanta, GA ~ Newport, RI ~ Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
Album release: November 11, 2013
Record Label: The Friday Project (UK)/Harper Collins’ It Books (US)
Duration: 64:15 + 68:27 => 132:32
01 Smoky Hands 1:09
02 Morning Birds 1 3:27
03 Sleepwalking 2 1:05
04 Sunray Venus 3:35
05 Cherry Candy 1 1:05
06 Film 1:49
07 Opiates 3:55
08 Cherry Candy 2 0:55
09 Freesia 2:42
10 Curtains 1 1:07
11 Triangle Quantico 1:15
12 Morning Birds 2 2:00
13 Lazy Eye 3:20
14 Blurry 1 2:25
15 Folding Fire 2 0:35
16 Slippershell 4:47
17 Bluff 1:02
18 Blurry 2 1:32
19 Terra Nova 2:37
20 Walking Talking 1:03
21 Milan 4:26
22 Curtains 2 0:44
23 Folding Fire 1 2:21
24 Static 2:41
25 Clark’s Nutcracker 2:45
26 Dripping Trees 1:49
27 Sleepwalking 1 2:24
28 Smoky Hands 2 0:28
29 Speedbath 2:08
30 Quick 2:34
31 Dripping Trees 2 1:25
32 Glass Cats 2:23 // CD 2:
01 Smoky Hands 1:14
02 Morning Birds 1 3:33
03 Sleepwalking 2 1:07
04 Sunray Venus 3:38
05 Cherry Candy 1 1:11
06 Film 1:54
07 Opiates 3:59
08 Cherry Candy 2 1:05
09 Freesia 2:47
10 Curtains 1 1:07
11 Triangle Quanitico 1:18
12 Morning Birds 2 2:05
13 Lazy Eye 3:27
14 Blurry 1 2:30
15 Sllepwalking 3 1:49
16 Slippershell 4:51
17 Bluff 1:13
18 Blurry 2 1:34
19 Terra Nova 2:38
20 Walking Talking 1:57
21 Milan 4:25
22 Curtains 2 0:43
23 Folding Fire 1 2:23
24 Static 2:43
25 Clark’s Nutcracker 2:55
26 Dripping Trees 1 1:52
27 Sleepwalking 1 2:28
28 Smoky Hands 2 0:31
29 Speedbath 2:11
30 Quick 2:41
31 Dripping Trees 2 1:29
32 Glass Cats 2:27
• Bernard Georges: bass (1992 — onwards)
• Kristin Hersh: vocals, guitar (1981 — onwards)
• David Narcizo: drums (1983 — onwards)
Album Moods: Intense Unsettling Dramatic Brooding Earnest Paranoid Quirky Trippy Eerie Freewheeling Literate Melancholy Passionate Rousing Angst-Ridden Cathartic Tense/Anxious Theatrical
Themes: Comfort Dreaming Maverick Visions Anger/Hostility
By Evan Minsker on August 28, 2013 at 10:21 a.m. (Pitchfork)
•• Throwing Muses were pioneers of the 80s/early 90s college rock sound, the first American band signed to 4AD, and the launchpad for co–frontwomen (and stepsisters) Kristin Hersh and Tanya Donelly. In the early 90s, Donelly left to play in the Breeders, and then, subsequently, Belly. Hersh continued with the Muses until 1997, when they disbanded and Hersh concentrated on her solo career. The band reunited in 2003 to release a self–titled album.
•• Now, Hersh, drummer Dave Narcizo, and bassist Bernard Georges are back with their first album in a decade. It isn’t your standard LP release, though.
•• Purgatory/Paradise is formatted as a multimedia set — a 64–page art book that comes with a 32–track CD. The book features design by Narcizo and promises a collage of lyrics, photographs, and writing by Kristin Hersh. The book is in stores October 28, with the full release out November 11 via It Books (U.S.) and Friday Project (UK).
Review by Heather Phares; Score: ****
•• During their lengthy career, Throwing Muses began as American college rock pioneers in the '80s and '90s, and in the 2000s and 2010s, provided a model of how critically acclaimed — but not necessarily best-selling — artists could thrive when the industry was in turmoil. Fed up with fickle record labels, in 2007 Kristin Hersh co-founded the Cash Music nonprofit to help musicians connect with and sell music to their fans; since then, it feels like she's been been building toward a project like the sprawling, often stunning Purgatory/Paradise, which pairs 32 songs with a book filled with illustrations, essays by Hersh, and 4AD–esque graphic design from drummer David Narcizo. In 2010, she published her memoir Rat Girl; her album Crooked from that year also featured an art book. Like those releases, this album is aimed very much at die–hard fans. Hersh, Narcizo, and bassist Bernard Georges sound lean and scrappy, much as the band did on Hunkpapa's volatile mix of folk and rock, while the many short songs evoke the interludes and snippets that graced classic 4AD albums such as House Tornado and The Real Ramona. In just the first three songs alone, the trio covers plenty of ground, moving from "Smoky Hands"' meditative poetry to "Morning Birds 1"'s righteous blaze and "Sleepwalking 2"'s anguish. Throughout, the Muses explore their ruminative, acoustic side ("Curtains 1"), their raging side ("Slippershell," "Sunray Venus"), and their rare but surefire pop side ("Cherry Candy 1," "Walking Talking"). At times it feels like songs are coming at listeners' ears from all directions; less patient listeners might want more focus, but this set was designed to be parsed and savored. •• Every part of Purgatory/Paradise — which takes its name from an intersection in Hersh's Rhode Island hometown, shedding more light on the fire and brimstone of the Muses' early days — has meaning for the band and its listeners, making it a satisfying artifact in a time when music is becoming increasingly disposable. May they ever go against the grain.
Artist Biography by Heather Phares
•• One of the greatest college bands of the '80s, Throwing Muses was formed in 1983 by guitarist/vocalist Kristin Hersh and her half-sister guitarist/vocalist Tanya Donelly with a few friends from high school. In 1986, the group's debut album was put out by the prestigious British label 4AD; Throwing Muses was the first American band to be released on that label. Throwing Muses' angular, anguished, mercurial sound had much to do with Hersh's mental illness (she suffered from a form of bipolarity that caused her to hallucinate), especially on early albums like House Tornado. Released in 1991, The Real Ramona marked a break from the heaviness of the previous albums, with lots of shimmery pop gems penned both by Hersh and Donelly, who contributed at least one song per album throughout her stay in the band.
•• Creative tensions between the two songwriters rose until Donelly left in 1992 to play with the Breeders and ultimately form Belly. That year Hersh re-formed the Muses with drummer David Narcizo and released the band's fourth album, Red Heaven. After that, Hersh released a solo album and toured extensively, leaving fans to wonder about the status of the Muses. In 1995, however, Hersh and the rest of the Muses (Narcizo and bassist Bernard Georges) released University, one of the band's most cohesive and accessible efforts. University was followed by Limbo in 1996.
•• The group's dissolution was announced soon after, with Hersh continuing on as a solo artist. In a Doghouse, a collection of rare early Muses material, followed in 1998. •• In spring 2000, the Muses reunited for a special event called the Gut Pageant, which featured a set from Hersh, Narcizo, Bernard Georges, and Robert Rust, as well as a solo performance by Hersh, short films by Narcizo, and a picnic lunch hosted by the group. During three weekends in 2002, the trio got together to record another album; released the same day in 2003 as Hersh’s The Grotto, Throwing Muses (self–titled, just like their debut) was the group’ rawest, loudest album. Donelly provided background vocals on some of the songs. Hersh and Georges subsequently recorded and toured as two–thirds of 50 Foot Wave, and Hersh continued her solo work. In 2011, the Muses assembled Anthology, a double–disc compilation of favorites and B–sides, and toured in support of it. Two years later, Hersh reunited with Narcizo and Georges for Purgatory/Paradise, a sprawling 32–track album accompanied by a book designed by Narcizo. (http://www.allmusic.com/)
Born: August 7, 1966, Atlanta, Georgia, U.S. as Martha Kristin Hersh
Born: May 6, 1966, in Newport, Rhode Island, United States
•• He has additionally played drums on Tanya Donelly’s Lovesongs for Underdogs, Sleepwalk, Beautysleep, and Whiskey Tango Ghosts solo recordings, also performing some of the drum programming on Kristin Hersh’s Sky Motel solo album.
•• After the first dissolution of Throwing Muses following the group’s 1996 Limbo album, Narcizo started an electronic instrumental project called Lakuna, including the participation of wife Melissa “Misi” Narcizo, Bernard Georges, Belly’s Tom Gorman, Kristin Hersh, and Frank Gardner. Lakuna’s Castle of Crime CD was released in 1999 on the 4AD Records label and on Throwing Muses’ own boutique label, called Throwing Music.
Born: March 29, 1965
Instruments: Bass Guitar
•• Beginning in 1992, he played bass for Throwing Muses on their album releases and in their concert appearances, having previously worked as roadie for the group. •• Georges has also played bass on recordings by Lakuna, as well as by the Boston–based bands Fritter and Count Zero.
•• Since 2003 Georges has recorded and toured primarily with the California–based 50 Foot Wave, while working on the side as a bicycle shop technician.
•• In the early 2000s Narcizo performed with Throwing Muses again at a couple of fan events called “Gut Pageants.” His trademark steady beat and agility with complex rhythms were highlighted in a self–titled Throwing Muses reunion album release in 2003, which the group supported with concert appearances in Europe and major U.S. cities that year.
•• Narcizo began increasingly focusing his time on his Newport graphic design firm, called “Lakuna, Inc.,” co–owned with his wife, also a graphic artist. Because his new business responsibilities made it impractical for Narcizo to continue touring full time with Throwing Muses after the 2003 concerts were completed, he helped Hersh find a drummer for her emerging 50 Foot Wave band concept. Narcizo had designed some of Throwing Muses' past album artwork; he continues with his Lakuna, Inc., graphics firm to help design album covers for bands like 50 Foot Wave, while providing print media design and promotional services for businesses in Newport.
By Katherine St. Asaph; November 15, 2013; Score: 8.0
••• There’s a moment during the commentary packaged with Throwing Muses new album Purgatory/Paradise, after drummer Dave Narcizo offers up a particularly ribald interpretation of “Slippershell”, where Kristin Hersh stops and laughs away the credit: “Sure. God wrote it.” From almost anyone else, that would come off ridiculous, a megalomaniac’s humblebrag, but from Hersh it’s part of the origin story, the one that’s been repeated in everything written about Throwing Muses from the 80s onward. Hersh has always held that she’s not a songwriter so much as a woman accosted by songs; her role, she says, is more like a transcriptionist, or a vessel. Anything an outside audience might hear in them, the story goes, is coincidental. But Throwing Muses’ music never sounded like it sprung from any outside source so much as one that’s deeply personal. The chords lurch like feelings would; and the lyrics make internal sense. A track like “Fish” becomes far less surreal when you know that it’s referring to an actual fish nailed to an actual cross on Hersh’s actual apartment wall, but even then it’s like listening in on a few minutes of monologue, raw and untranslated, where the bits of dialogue, snippets of images, and the rest of the stuff of someone else’s inner life may well be a foreign language. There are plenty of Throwing Muses tracks that are oblique — and a lot more than the band gets credit for that are needle-direct — but few that explain themselves.
••• If this sounds at odds with finding a large audience, it’s because it is. Throwing Muses’ time on Warner in the 90s was neither pleasant nor lucrative. Hersh gave the label the rights to Hips and Makers to get out of her contract before releasing 1996’s Limbo, a title that now seems either prescient or biting. The Muses went on hiatus — or “disbanded,” which is both farther from the truth and closer to the practical reality. ••• Hersh released solo albums on a fairly steady schedule, but Throwing Muses released only one more record: the triumphant Throwing Muses. That was in 2003. ••• Hersh formed another project, 50 Foot Wave, around this time, but their last two EPs were released for free and quietly — as quietly, that is, as is possible for a band whose founding principle was “Throwing Muses, if they were faster, meaner and also swore a lot.” Hersh’s last solo album, Crooked, was self–released in 2009 nearly as quietly, supported mostly by house shows and smallish acoustic concerts. And though demos of Purgatory/Paradise existed online as early as 2007 (a few were meant for Crooked), the audience they found was largely the same fans who crowdfunded the record. (Hersh was among the first to adopt the pay-what-you-want and subscription models Kickstarter and its ilk would later make inescapable.) While Throwing Muses did tour behind 2011’s Anthology compilation, it would have taken close attention to think new material was forthcoming.
••• Purgatory/Paradise, as it turns out, is the Muses’ first album in 10 years, and “the work [the band] can die after releasing,” as Hersh jokes early in the commentary. (“We’re really looking forward to death. We work so hard to be allowed to die!”) But while 2003’s Throwing Muses was a comeback album in the familiar sense, roaring and tearing at all expectations from the first count-off, Purgatory/Paradise is more reserved. Of the Muses’ albums, it most resembles Red Heaven or Limbo, the forcefully aloof deep cuts of the Muses’ discography — but a shattered version, “like someone reached over our heads with a Looney Tunes mallet and slammed it into our record before we could stop him,” Hersh wrote. (Like Crooked, Purgatory/Paradise was devised both as a record and as a book, with essays by Hersh and art by Narcizo. It’s both a gorgeous standalone object — particularly the writing, considering 2010’s Rat Girl proved Hersh one of the best music writers around — and a sort of decoder for the album’s tracks.) Half of the album’s 32 tracks barely make it over two minutes. Some of them are reprises; sometimes the reprises come first. Some tracks are lopped-off bridges or choruses, or thoughts beginning with “and.” It’s even more disorienting for cuts like “Static” whose uncut versions have been around long enough to memorize. This doesn’t necessarily seem odd for a band whose songs tend to skitter into loping girl-group choruses halfway or careen through dozens of chords that wouldn’t normally touch or scare-quote the entirety of some kid’s anarchy pamphlet as an intro, but Purgatory/Paradise really is unlike anything I’ve heard this year; it’s a little like someone read an old Muses review that talked about their songs switching gears, recorded what they thought that sounded like, then lost half the data to a defragmenting snafu.
••• Not that Purgatory/Paradise is difficult or inaccessible. The beginning fakes you out with the almost stately folk of “Smoky Hands”, but it’s just scene-setting before a song accosts you: a crash, then “Morning Birds”, an onslaught of shredding then pathos that’s as wrenching as anything on the first Muses record. “Sunray Venus”, the single, comes shortly after, and it’s as joyous as “Morning Birds” is visceral. Like Wild Flag’s “Romance”, it’s an exuberant ode to band chemistry that plays out like the Muses rediscovering all their hits (“leaving, that is limbo — hey, I remember you!”) and comes with a splashy video full of wordplay and intertextual Easter eggs. Later on is “Sleepwalking”, a college-rock throwback where everything from the guitar lines to the glaze of the vocal processing seems imported from 1992. It’d be shameless if it weren’t so huge (and self–aware; the band calls it their “RC Cola song”), and it’s easy to imagine it on Doolittle or Last Splash — or for that matter Throwing Muses again; you can even trace out where Tanya Donelly’s harmonies would go.
••• But that’s the second version of “Sleepwalking” you hear: the first version is what would ordinarily be end of the song, a one–minute acoustic hangover. Songs come and go like this, or more specifically moments: bassist Bernard Georges’ sly lead on “Cherry Candy”, the spy riff and ballroom pirouette of a drum fill that introduces “Film” or the piano waltz it becomes halfway, the panflutes of “Folding Fire” (if any instrument’s unexpected on a Throwing Muses album, that would be it), certain melodies that recur or slip into the wrong tracks. The album, to its credit, rarely feels indulgent — only the two aimless “Curtains” stand out as possible edits — and the more you listen, the more a method emerges from the muddle.
••• Purgatory/Paradise, more than any of Hersh’s records to date, is an album about loss, which might account for its fracturing. The closest thing to a traditionally built song is the bitterly determined “Milan”, about a neighborhood in New Orleans where Hersh's house was destroyed after Hurricane Katrina. Everything else is tentative: memories listed in order of disapperance. Sometimes the loss is literal, as in “Static”, written for a close friend who died; the arrangement tiptoes at first, then plunges straight into denial. Sometimes it’s almost funny: “Terra Nova”, about the Muses’ first breakup, is aimless and resigned, melodies delivered like shrugs, until it breaks out the “Bittersweet Symphony” strings. Sometimes it’s not funny at all, as on “Quick,” a song built uneasily atop a cello dirge, or “Bluff,” which is a curious lilting minute at first until its essay turns hazy into heartbreaking: “If you watch your friends carefully, sometimes you'll notice their features beginning to change: curling up into themselves, looking within rather than without, their senses dulled.” (The more I listen, the more it seems like a direct companion to “Flooding”, the saddest song Hersh has ever recorded.)
••• Purgatory/Paradise isn’t an easy listen — expected enough from a band that’s repeatedly referred to the recording process as being “on a [desert] island". If Throwing Muses didn’t explain themselves before, they’re certainly not doing so now, and for a comeback album, it’s so willfully at odds with any music consumption trend in 2013. Even as you imagine what these songs used to sound like, it’s hard to imagine actually listening to them that way, let alone shuffled in with anything else; its pieces are simply too small and elusive to listen to individually. They’d sound out of place on playlists, maybe bewildered in setlists. But as Hersh wrote to accompany “Swollen,” an album offcut (though the essay did become the introduction to the book), “It is not un-beautiful to be in pieces, as long as those pieces are fully realized.” It may be impossible for Throwing Muses to write anything that isn’t. Fortaken: http://pitchfork.com/
Discography (studio albums only):
••• Untitled 1986
••• House Tornado 1988
••• Hunkpapa 1989 #59 UK Album Chart
••• The Real Ramona 1991 #26 UK Album Chart
••• Red Heaven 1992 #13 UK Album Chart
••• University 1995 #10 UK Album Chart
••• Limbo 1996 #36 UK Album Chart
••• Throwing Muses 2003 #75 UK Album Chart
••• Purgatory/Paradise 2013
|Throwing Muses — Purgatory/Paradise (2013)|