Throwing Muses

Purgatory/Paradise

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During their lengthy career, Throwing Muses began as American college rock pioneers in the '80s and '90s, and in the 2000s and 2010s, provided a model of how critically acclaimed -- but not necessarily best-selling -- artists could thrive when the industry was in turmoil. Fed up with fickle record labels, in 2007 Kristin Hersh co-founded the Cash Music nonprofit to help musicians connect with and sell music to their fans; since then, it feels like she's been been building toward a project like the sprawling, often stunning Purgatory/Paradise, which pairs 32 songs with a book filled with illustrations, essays by Hersh, and 4AD-esque graphic design from drummer David Narcizo. In 2010, she published her memoir Rat Girl; her album Crooked from that year also featured an art book. Like those releases, this album is aimed very much at die-hard fans. Hersh, Narcizo, and bassist Bernard Georges sound lean and scrappy, much as the band did on Hunkpapa's volatile mix of folk and rock, while the many short songs evoke the interludes and snippets that graced classic 4AD albums such as House Tornado and The Real Ramona. In just the first three songs alone, the trio covers plenty of ground, moving from "Smoky Hands"' meditative poetry to "Morning Birds 1"'s righteous blaze and "Sleepwalking 2"'s anguish. Throughout, the Muses explore their ruminative, acoustic side ("Curtains 1"), their raging side ("Slippershell," "Sunray Venus"), and their rare but surefire pop side ("Cherry Candy 1," "Walking Talking"). At times it feels like songs are coming at listeners' ears from all directions; less patient listeners might want more focus, but this set was designed to be parsed and savored. Every part of Purgatory/Paradise -- which takes its name from an intersection in Hersh's Rhode Island hometown, shedding more light on the fire and brimstone of the Muses' early days -- has meaning for the band and its listeners, making it a satisfying artifact in a time when music is becoming increasingly disposable. May they ever go against the grain.

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