STRAIT TO THE POINT: Patsy Cline – Showcase (1961)

Review by: Michael Strait



Paintings of an America composed mostly of light, purity, and emotional pain.

Man, I’m still kind of amazed that this music was once as popular as it was. I had no idea the American public once had such a fondness for atmospheric minimalism! “Crazy” is still a bar karaoke classic in the South (and possibly elsewhere too – I can only speak from my experiences) to this day, and that usually stops making sense to me the moment I leave the establishment. It’s a heartbroken ballad, sure, but it seems like kind of a weird one by my modern standards. The instrumentation is more concerned with creating an atmosphere than conveying a specific emotion, as if it’s trying to construct the sort of environment in which a loving connection could, conceivably, be found and then lost rather than actively trying to evoke the way it feels. But what’s most fascinating about the song – and, indeed, the album as a whole – is that this atmosphere is conjured mostly by suggestion, with sparse, barely-there instruments sketching faint outlines of an emotional universe that you are encouraged to fill with your own experiences. I, personally, think the faint pianos and barely-audible rhythm guitar scratches of “Crazy” evoke the lovely emptiness of the American South on a not-unpleasantly warm summer’s night, but that’s almost certainly just my personal biases leaking onto the canvas. The architecture is here for you to provide your own setting for Patsy’s plaintive wailing, and that’s true of much of the album.

It’s evident right away, with “I Fall To Pieces”. Like the rest of the album, it’s mostly very sparse – just a bassline and vocals, really – but it sounds like far more is hiding in the distance, occasionally making suggestions of itself visible for a second or two at a time. Par example: there’s a little three-note guitar refrain that pops up repeatedly in the verses, laden with softly chiming echo effects and matched by a quiet male backing choir, casting a dim and momentary glow over the fields from the heavens before folding back into the vast, velvet darkness that blankets all things, smothering the world in tranquility and peace. Shortly thereafter, we reach “The Wayward Wind”, which sounds as if it has entirely disconnected itself from human foibles and flaws and exists in some ephemeral dreamworld, floating atop tremulous string arrangements and egoless guitar. The flawless beauty of these environments does not, of course, do much to ease poor Patsy’s soul – still she wails out her heart about missed moments, lost love and the miseries of life without companionship, immersed in the ceaseless beauty of this American dreamscape and yet lacking a soul to share it with.

“I Love You So Much It Hurts” is the other song that immediately jumps out at me as a big highlight. It’s barely two minutes, but the world itself seems to slow to a crawl as you listen, with a glacial mist of low organs, near-imperceptible guitar chimes and soft backing vocals coating the world in a ghostly, angelic haze that shields one from the passage of time. It’s easy to get lost in this world, at least until the dancier, more energetic “Seven Lonely Days” jolts you out of the dream-haze and into a more physical, motive world with fewer distractions from poor Patsy’s endless heartbreak. If it seems like a weaker song in comparison, then that’s only fair – it’s a great song, but how can it compare to the rich tapestry that preceded it?

If there’s a flaw with this album, it’s that it’s a little frontloaded. “Crazy” is the last real highlight, save perhaps for a rerecording of “Walkin’ After Midnight” which is just a teensy bit more polished and, alas, less devastating than the original. The other songs on the post-“Crazy” second half are all beautiful, but they contribute to the overriding atmosphere of the album more than they set themselves apart as individual pieces. Great for laying back and bathing in, but if I were to analyse them I’d pretty much just be repeating myself, so I won’t bother. Of the couple of songs on the first half that I’ve not covered, “Foolin’ Round” is very intriguing in that it is nearly impossible to identify any of the individual instruments played on it save for the bass, so successfully do they meld into one unit. “South of the Border (Down Mexico Way)”, meanwhile, isn’t quite on the level of brilliance of its immediately surrounding brethren but nonetheless feels like it exists in a far less corporeal world than our own, evoking mystical concepts and distant lands only vaguely corresponding to the places we know as Mexico or suchlike.

Pop music, eh? Amazing what the public is capable of appreciating so long as it comes packaged with relatable lyrics. This is as painterly and atmospheric as any ambient music, and it doesn’t sacrifice an ounce of emotional impact for it. Certainly worth your time as much as any Oren Ambarchi record. Now, how long shall I make my dedicated three-or-so readers wait until my next review? I’m thinking maybe five hundred years…




STRAIT TO THE POINT: Patsy Cline – Patsy Cline (1957)

Review By: Michael Strait


Misery itself. As beautiful as it gets.

“It’s nice to know that there’s music that isn’t rooted in misery.”

– Dave Grohl, idiot, on country music

I plan to review a lot of country artists in my time here, but I’m not entirely sure how I’m gonna go about it. Country artists are a prolific bunch, and the legends tend to have discographies that stretch off into distant solar systems. I’ll come up with a way of reviewing them in depth one day, but in the meantime I’ll start with Patsy Cline, who had the decency to die in a plane crash after releasing only three albums.

Now, I’m not the most knowledgeable bloke when it comes to this era of music. I know, however, that this album isn’t what you might call pure country. It’s got that cosmopolitan Nashville style, pulling all sorts of different influences into a great country-shaped melting pot that bears a striking resemblance to just about every form of American popular music of the time without actually committing fully to being any of them. That sounds like a sneering insult, but it’s not, because the end result isn’t the beige pile of mud one might usually expect from such a collection of distilled references. Instead, all the styles ultimately end up subservient to country music’s peculiar lightweight gorgeousness, where all the individual instruments seem to disappear into a shimmering, ephemeral cloud of divine beauty, annihilating the musical ego entirely as the individual musicians disappear into the collective. Atop this glowing fog resides the heartbreak of Patsy Cline, screamed and wailed out with the power of a thousand suns. This dichotomy between the divinely perfect and the brokenly human is what motivates much of my favourite country music, and this album is as lovely a representation of it as you will find anywhere.

Across this album’s runtime – less than half an hour, as was normal in country music (and, indeed, much other music) of the time – there are two components that remain constant, undergirding all the tracks and binding the influences together. The first, most famously, is Mrs. Cline’s gorgeous, sonorous voice, resonant with overwhelming emotion and occasionally inflected with just a little bit of ugly phlegm to get the point across. The second, more subtly, is the backing vocals of The Anita Kerr Singers, present (unless my memory doth deceive me) on even the roughest, bluesiest tracks here. That serves to smooth down the edges of some of the grittier influences here, making sure that even the r&b riffs of “In Care For The Blues” and the swingy horns of “Too Many Secrets” ultimately sound as if they are in the service of some omnibenevolent being. This goes both ways, though. The opener, “That Wonderful Someone”, is ostensibly a plain-and-simple worship song for that aforementioned omnibenevolent being, and the softly clean instrumentation sounds as tranquil and bright as a clear mountain stream, but Patsy’s voice still peals across the shimmering waters like a doleful horn, reminding us all – I guess – of the perpetual fallen sinfulness of humanity, tragically heartbroken even as surrounded by the natural wonders erected by that wonderful someone.

I don’t know how genuine her pain was – I’ve not properly read up on her biography – but it certainly sounds real. I’ve never heard anyone wail quite as desperately as she does on “Don’t Ever Leave Me Again”, which may contain the most wince-inducingly convincing scream (so to speak) of the words “I feel like dying” ever uttered. “Three Cigarettes In An Ashtray”, too, is truly tragic, as Patsy wails her heart out in a smoky, empty room lit only by sparse chiming guitars and soft backing vocals. That’s a continuation of the implicitly nocturnal theme found on “I Can’t Forget”, with its quiet, intimate piano and sleepy rhythm guitar laying contentedly atop the angelfeather bed conjured by the backing choir. Patsy herself, sadly, enjoys no such contentedness – she’s still up, bathing in the meagre light of a fading fire, sadly reflecting on her lonesomeness. Even amid the comfiest domestic bliss a set of instruments and a choir can evoke, she gets no rest.

That nocturnal theme is finally made explicit on the album’s big, famous standout, “Walkin’ After Midnight”, which is far more evocative and atmospheric than a two-and-a-half minute song about loneliness has any right to be. It’s got a lovely, meandering slide guitar riff and a bit of a doleful rhythm, but most of that atmosphere comes from the echoey resonance of Patsy’s voice and the painterly fullness of the lyrics, sketching a fulsome picture of an emotional state rent between lonesome anguish and the tranquil peace of midnight solitude. “I stop to see a weepin’ willow/ Cryin’ on his pillow/ Maybe he’s cryin’ for me”, she sings, drawing out the last syllable into a mournfully climbing peal of despair. As someone who finds very little in the world as relaxing as being alone at night, I relate; I just hope I never experience pain like this. What was it Young Thug said? “I ain’t never been in love, I don’t know how pain feels”? If this is what love leads to, maybe he was right about it all along.

There isn’t a bad song on the album, but I guess I have to concede that “Walkin’ After Midnight” is the only really big standout. “Then You’ll Know” is so gorgeously tranquil that it seems to make time itself stop when one listens to it, but I’ll freely admit that it kind of disappears fairly easily from the memory after it’s done, as do most of these. It’s a great album, but ultimately it’s not a masterpiece and it’s far from the best country album I’ve ever heard. Still, come on – ninety whole ratings, RYM? Ninety? This lady deserves so much better than that. I’ll do what I can to correct this grave collective error myself over the coming weeks.

ALEX ALEX’S COLUMN: SOUL ENEMA – Of Clans and Clones and Clowns (2017)

Review by: Alex Alex
Assigned by :Constantin Glanz


Following the history of “progressive” (mandatory including all the “inspired by”) rock bands is much like watching the entire Leslie Nielsen filmography: the only question to answer is “when we are supposed to start laughing?”.

The correct answer is that we are not – the existential tragedy of the “Airplane!” becomes obvious from the first utterance.

In a far away future, where airplanes all run on steam, how we are supposed to tell which one of them most resembles the present-day Boeing? The context, the hard disks installed in the invisible robots all around us, make us laugh at the heroic attempts of Mr Nielsen to, first, save the Airplane and then the Starship – but deep in our hearts we know that the man is as good as Jefferson, Washington, Trump or Dead Kennedy.

If it’s all a timeless mess now, how do we judge? When one is close to death one is close to the timeless. Death is a lonely business, let me steal from the SF businessman here, but the loneliness means no one around, no other businesses to compare with. And, if we do not have anything to compare Airplane! with then it’s not funny anymore. Then it’s just an airplane crushing, people dying and a brave captain trying to save them by doing what he must do.

Thus, I encourage you to give a listen to Soul Enema. I do not say that in a way the whore-like agents in the tourists agencies do. I do not promise you five stars but, in return, you are free to acknowledge that you never really deserved even three. Fuck, have you ever done anything yourself? Have you ever hunted baboons on Mars? Have you ever witnessed the last days of Rome? Do you know anything about Aral Sea?

Aral Sea is the Sea Inside and as we do not have any more “inside” so it’s here now. Once people thought there will always be enough room in hell for all the zombies. But then the walls (and the animals) changed their solid forms to that of Miku Hatsune, the room changed into the movie, and all the Hellboys are now here forever, comfortably.

So I encourage you, again, to listen to Soul Enema if not for anything else, then as a kind of a Greenpeace action. Consider it a fun, a challenge. How brave you are? Will you dare telling your friends that Soul Enema is a good group? Will you be able to explain why? Or, you don’t fucking know anything, right? There are lists of groups out there, Soul Enema is not on the lists? Tourist you are and a Greenpeace warrior you are not. They are coming to get you.

Bravery and insanity is all that’s left for us. Not an industry-manufactured insanity, sold as a series of “genius” figures with porcelain heads crushed by a bullet or made malfunctioned by the drugs. Olden times all people were brave and insane and that was the definition for sanity. I remember that from my childhood and you, probably, do, too. Back then we could have music as we pleased. But we never really wanted anything too original or too strange. We knew what music was.

Now, we do not really know that anymore. It’s good that Soul Enema does.