P.G. Six – Slightly Sorry
Slightly Sorry, released by Drag City (a big deal!), is, by P.G. Six standards, a massive let-down. It’s the classic sound of someone “maturing.” Alternately, it also fits the “selling out” charge really well. Hey, look at that! Music criticism cliches, in quotes, in back-to-back sentences! Go me! But really, despite evidence that Pat Gubler is still capable of penning gorgeous music, there’s really just far too much weak material on here for this to be anything but a depressing thing to behold.
This is hard for me to write: where it now reads “weak material” in the previous sentence, I had originally written “faceless dross.” My original term was partly overwrought critical ego inflation and partly true. Even so, I just cannot be that mean: P.G. Six, at his best, is a criminally underrated, revelatory figure in folk. You just wouldn’t know it by listening to Slightly Sorry.
All over it is dilution and disappointment. Sometimes, as on “Untitled Micro Mini,” the offense lies in the song’s completely inoffensive nature. Sure, it’s pleasant enough, but this, this is in no way an example of what makes P.G. Six great. Other times, however, the transgression is due entirely to the song’s general atrociousness, as on the abysmal “The Dance,” which I mean c’mon I don’t even want to get into. Let’s just say it employs the lyric “But I wonder if you dance” and proceeds to rhyme “dance” with “romance” and I’ll let your mind do its worst.
The best moments on Slightly Sorry are undeniably great, but they’re robbed of much of their glory due to context. “The End of Winter,” for example, is an unsettlingly beautiful rumination of fingerpicked guitar and Helen Rush’s intimate, husky whisper. It establishes an absolutely haunting, arresting mood, one which is completely bitch-slapped by the vapid Byrds retread of “I’ve Been Travelling,” which jarringly kicks in right after.
To put it another way: On, say, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites, these moments wouldn’t be such standouts. That’s not to say that “The End of Winter” and “Lily of the West,” the other indisputably excellent song on Slightly Sorry, would pale in comparison to anything on Pat Gubler’s previous albums. Rather, they wouldn’t seem particularly special, but would be yet another captivating thread in a uniformly brilliant tapestry. However, it’s the fact that these song-length masterpieces are surrounded by such uninspired material that makes them kind of sad, kind of like watching a washed-up sports legend turn out one last dominating game. Or something.
I don’t just want to shit all over P.G. Six here. It would be comforting, or at least instructive, if I could figure out why Gubler chose to go down this route. Unfortunately, I can’t. The Drag City move means he stands to get a fair bump in exposure, but it’s not like the stuff he’s turning out has an appeal to some gigantic audience. He’s shunned a miniscule group of followers for a merely tiny one, and these songs aren’t getting picked up by any car companies anytime soon. Artistically, there’s absolutely no way someone with Gubler’s evident musical interests, let alone his avant-rich background, could make such a dramatic shift toward NPR-friendly folk and feel entirely at ease. The creator of The Well of Memory can’t just turn around three years later and drop Slightly Sorry without having at least a hint of internal conflict. Try as I might, I just can’t justify why this happened. I wish I could.
All right, I did it: I laid into someone whose music I truly love. I feel kind of dirty about it, but I also kind of told myself I’d do it. I’m not sure how often I’ll be going negative here, but the earnest hope is that it doesn’t happen too much, and I don’t think it will. Though it can be kind of fun to rip into someone awful like Vampire Weekend or the Black-Eyed Peas or something, that’s really not the point of this blog, which is to spread my love for psychedelic music. Another, more ambitious goal: to, through example, come up with a broad working definition of what, exactly, psychedelic music is. Don’t know if that’ll ever happen. But I sure as shit didn’t start writing this psychedelic music blog with the intention of regularly trampling on anyone here. So, my earnest apologies to Pat Gubler, but I felt like, in this particular case, I had to go there.