Play One Note

Psychedelic music blog covering psychedelic, folk, drone, metal, and all other forms of out music.

Posts tagged with ‘parlor tricks and porch favorites’

P.G. Six – Slightly Sorry

April 23, 2010

p.g. six slightly sorrySlightly 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.

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P.G. Six – Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites

April 7, 2010

p.g. six parlor tricks and porch favoritesParlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is the first album by folk musician Pat Gubler, who records under the name P.G. Six.  In 2001, when the album was released, Gubler was in seminal free folk/noise folk/improv folk collective Tower Recordings.  They were a formidable outfit that released an indeterminate number of albums in a wide array of traditional and non-traditional formats, as bands of their shamanic ilk (Vibracathedral Orchestra, Charalambides, Sunburned Hand of the Man, Jackie-O Motherfucker, et. al) are wont to do.  Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is at once an extension of the avant-folk themes Gubler pursued in Tower Recordings and a welcome respite from his primary concern’s cluttered clatter.

It is, above all, an album of hushed moments, of quietly contemplative beauty.  And it’s all complemented perfectly by Gubler’s singular voice, which manages to be entirely arresting while remaining incredibly limited.  To compare it to any other set of pipes is probably a misstep on my part, but for point of reference, imagine Calexico singer Joey Burns, sans nasality, with a bucolic lilt.  (Pretty specific, no?  I’m trying here.)  That may not sound that special, but Gubler’s abstracted, crystalline arrangements multiply the calming effect of his vocals, rendering them wholly hypnotic.

And this music is, absolutely, crystalline and hypnotic.  The hushed, circular guitar picking of “Unteleported Man” creates finely tuned and enveloping figures.  Chiming overlays of harp and washes of droning flutes and reeds act as counterpoints, at one point interrupting the guitar playing.  Gubler gently hums along.  That’s it.  But for over six minutes, the effect is completely entrancing.  “Go Your Way” might be both more abstracted and more lovely, featuring mellow flutters and trills on a harp and subdued lilting by Gubler for a good four minutes.  Stately bodrhan-esque drumming joins in for another four.  And when I refer to harp playing here, this isn’t Joanna Newsom-level stuff here.  This is absolutely sublime work.

Compared to his subsequent album, 2004’s The Well of Memory, Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is more of a piece, sporting a much more unified sound from beginning to end, and lacking the highlights and missteps of his sophomore work.  (I really, really don’t want to get into his third solo album, Slightly Sorry, but I feel more and more like I should.)  Parlor Tricks and Porch Favorites is pastoral and seemingly effortlessly intricate.  It’s underrated.  It’s beautiful.

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