P.G. Six – The Well of Memory
P.G. Six’s second album, The Well of Memory, works on deepening the gorgeously repetitive sound of his debut, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites. The engrossingly nimble harp and fingerpicked guitar playing are still there, but they’re even more hauntingly rendered. At the same time, The Well of Memory also finds the free-folk performer turning toward more song-based arrangements, which makes for higher highs and lower lows.
Those highs largely come in the album’s first half, with “Come In/The Winter it is Past,” “Old Man on the Mountain,” and “Crooked Way,” three songs with linear song structure that hover around the five-minute mark and that are each characterized by an incredibly hypnotic depth. In each, some fundamental elements change–the stark banjo picking of “Come In,” for example, compared to the hushed, enveloping male/female harmonies of “Crooked Way”–but the overall effect is of otherworldly, eerie warmth.
So, in a way, The Well of Memory more of the same, with only some minor tweaks. But those tweaks are important, making for some much more arresting material. In retrospect, however, it also signals a continuing trend away from the anarchy of Tower Recordings, his previous band with Matt Valentine.
Like many projects with multiple songwriters, Tower Recordings was a middle ground between two of its primary members. (For what it’s worth, I’m not discounting the contributions of third mainstay Helen Rush. I’m just choosing not to enter her into the equation since her post-Tower work has been largely collaborative, not solo-oriented, so I can’t easily determine what she brought to the table. Ditto with Tim Barnes and any other regular contributors.) Valentine’s vast output since the band’s dissolution has been characterized by visceral experimentation and an embrace of bloody, lively chaos–all nominally within the strictures of American folk and psych-rock traditions. With his music, whether it’s an abstracted drone piece or a primal, grimy electric jam, it’s always messy and immediate. Gubler’s approach, conversely, has been one of restraint, both with his rate of output and with the calm, assured music he creates. Call it what you want, but it would be impossible to describe the cyclical guitar playing and subdued vocal delivery of “Old Man on the Mountain” with any synonym of “immediate.”
And yet, counterintuitively, it’s Valentine’s music that largely leaves me cold, while I compulsively listen to (and am consistently entranced by) Gubler’s work. Like I mentioned in my initial post about P.G. Six, it’s his restraint, combined with his absolutely arresting delivery (both vocally and instrumentally), that keeps me coming back. Really, writing about these two first albums so much has been so rewarding, if only because I get to listen to two of my all-time favorite albums with a critical ear. It’s been a wonderful time.
And then there’s Slightly Sorry, whose very existence pains me, especially because you can tell, listening to it, that Pat Gubler hasn’t completely lost it.