Highlights: too many to list
You are unlikely to hear this anywhere else, but Kristin Hersh is one of the world’s greatest songwriters. Kristin has it all: taste, substance, charisma; she has a way with melodies and she has a way with words. So admittedly the prospect of having a new Throwing Muses album with 32 songs on it seemed both enticing and a little overwhelming. Insane, too. And it’s the whole package this time: a book with Kristin’s short stories, the actual LP, links to various album-related downloads. For instance, there’s a totally instrumental version of Purgatory/Paradise, which, contrary to what common sense might tell you, is not expendable: the chemistry of the band is amazing, and you’ll get an even better chance to hear how beautiful and crisp it all sounds.
Worth saying it again: 32 songs. They float and bump into each other, they spring up and die down and they are occasionally reprised. Oddly, this kaleidoscopic album of old-school indie-pop (not to be confused with shit), never sounds like a wholesome musical journey. Rather, Purgatory/Paradise sounds like a work of a terrific and obsessive songwriter courageously going through an attention-deficit phase. It’s nothing to fear though: even the 1-minute songs are hook-filled and well-written.
Not that we don’t have a range of full-length classics here: “Lazy Eye”, “Slippershell” (lyrically, this one is untouchable; the moment when Kristin sings “hard to say it’s hard luck – when we had it coming” is blissful), “Milan”, “Morning Birds 1” all qualify. As for the shorter ones, some just had to become full-fledged classics: the piano-based, deranged waltz called “Triangle Quantico” lasts 1:15, and that is just awfully unfair. But that doesn’t even come off as legitimate criticism, because it was meant to be that way: Purgatory/Paradise is a nervy flow of brilliant ideas, moods and impeccable taste. And, again, the sound of this thing. Whichever guitar tone they choose, however gentle (“Smoky Hands”) or crude (“Sleepwalking 1”), it all works, and then they might also add a few gorgeous piano lines (“Bluff”) or violin (“Terra Nova”) on top of all that chemistry and Kristin’s winningly coarse vocals.
To be completely honest here, had Kevin Barnes not released his most sizzling songs earlier this year, I wouldn’t hesitate and say Purgatory/Paradise is the album of the year. Hands down, period, etc. But even as it is, it’s fucking brilliant. Not quite their eponymous debut from 1986, but oh so close.