keepcalmprimedirectiveI have committed myself to follow the Prime Directive. The directive prohibits the protagonists from interfering with the internal development of other civilizations in the fictional universe of Star Trek. The rules are simple. "No identification of self or mission. No interference with the social development of said planet. No references to space or the fact that there are other worlds or civilizations." Things could go wrong. Leadership role-model Jean-Luc Picard hit the nail on the head: "History has proved again and again that whenever mankind interferes with a less developed civilization, no matter how well intentioned that interference may be, the results are invariably disastrous." My wife, who is a enlightened TNG-trekker, objected to my ill-considered commitment. Firstly, the Prime Directive only apply to less developed civilizations. The gothic country genre is, of course, the highest of civilizations. Secondly, I've violated the Prime Directive constantly by contacting artists, writing articles, reviews and blog posts. And moreover. My mission statement for the website "To explore and promote gothic country, southern gothic, gothic americana, american gothic and dark americana and ...whatever" is in open and direct conflict with the Prime Directive. I got myself into a difficult moral dilemma. Captain Picard always found a way. However, my ethical dilemma was solved brutally and in a blink. The Internet Foundation in Sweden, IIS, is an independent public-service organization that acts to ensure positive development of the internet. In their annual report "Swedes and the Internet 2018" they concluded that 98 percent have an internet access and 90 percent own a smartphone. But only 1 percent runs a homepage or blog. And, even a smaller percentage visit or follow them. Apparently, I belong to a civilization which is below the threshold of technological, scientific and cultural development. I don't have to think about following the directive. The directive protects me. My mind boggles when I think about it. It's like holodeck-gone-bad plot without the episode filler feeling.


gothic branchesI found this typology of gothic branches on internet (see image right). It may contain a certain element of generalization and exaggaration. Most of the time typologies are helpful in understanding a complex world by making it smaller and more easy to handle. Definitions and classifications are useful tools in this process. However, some tools are not very accurate, for example so-called genre maps (algorithmically-generated, readability-adjusted scatter-plot of the musical genre-space). They simply make no sense. One of the reasons to why I started this website was to bring some order in the "gothic country" genre and provide basic consumer guidance. The term "gothic country" was first attached to The Shivers, a husband and wife duo who explored the back roads of America in their RV in the 1990s. But what is "gothic country"? One very elegant but general defintion has been suggested by writer David Goodman: "Extremely laid back style with an intense focus on the supernatural, death, sorrow, and other themes and images found in Southern/Gothic literature." Amen to that. However, there are many different branches and twigs in the gothic country genre and you can approach the genre in different ways. In a previous blog entry I described the regional differences, read more here (opens in a new window). You have to be careful. The use of definitions and classifications sometimes gets out of control. In some academic fields people are busy with, not with research, but with inventing conspicuous terms, constructing far-fetched dichotomies and building new models. No content, only surface. Unfortunately, the empirical data doesn't always fit. Not even with the help of a shoehorn in stainless steel. In fact, using definitions and classifications is a balancing act. One should not walk on a tightrope because, as we all know, tightrope-walkers are doomed to fall one day. However, I'm walking on. 


respecttheelderlyMost people would agree that you should respect the elderly. They've been through a lot. I haven't experienced two world wars, only two brutal format shifts. More precisely, shifts in sound storage medium. I would not wish anyone to experience such horrible times. I grew up with vinyl and cassettes, which eventually were replaced by the compact disc, which in turn was replaced by downloads and streaming. The first format shift to cd meant huge sacrifices. In 1990 I (literally) ditched all my vinyl. Not one of all the many used record stores in Stockholm were interested in any of my albums (except in Elton John's Goodbye Yellow Brick Road in yellow vinyl). The rest of the collection was spread for the wind. I went all in for audio cd. I wanted to be modern and future-proofed. I started to build up my record collection again, slowly but surely. The second format shift to downloads and streaming was perhaps even more brutal than the first. However, I played dead this time and didn't do anything drastic. Going back to vinyl was never an option after my post-traumatic ditching. We, the elderly, are too old to change format. A decade is more of a year for us. We are also keen to believe in a theory that says if you can't touch it it doesn't exist. We want a format that is tangible and lasting. People in my generation are bent and shaped to collect things in a physical format: for example stamps, trading cards and albums. The day of the last album produced in cd format is approaching inevitable (there's still pockets of resistance here and there). Therefore, I implore you, respect the elderly and release gothic country music in the cd format. Soon we are gone and then you can do as you please, but until then: respect the elderly and give us our plastic.

I encountered this magnificent tarot deck when I was excavating the many layers of Sons of Perdition's third album "Trinity", read more here (opens in a new window). It's called the Rider-Waite tarot deck. The amazing cards were drawn by illustrator Pamela Colman Smith from the instructions of A. E. Waite and published by the Rider Company, read more here (opens in a new window). The tarot deck was originally published in 1910. It wasn't really surprising to find a reference to tarot on Trinity. There are numbers and symbols everywhere on the album. In the physical release of Trinity an exclusive tarot card was included, "The Fool" by artist, illustrator, cartoonist and letterer Christoph Mueller. The Mueller card differs from the frivolous and unconcerned fool in the Rider-Waite deck (who is just about to step over a cliff). The Muller fool is frantic and uncontrollable, check it out here (opens in a new window). It can easily be explained. "Trinity tells the story of a fool’s hellish journey through the blood-soaked deserts of the American Southwest through religious, occult, and alchemical allusions". There are 78 cards in a tarot deck and 22 of them constitutes the so-called Major Arcana (picture cards that serve as a permanent trumps). The Major Arcana begins with "The Fool" (no. 0) and ends with "The World" (no. 21). Well, it doesn't really end. It begins again like an ouroboros. The 22 cards in the Major Arcana are displayed one by one in the image carousel to the left. To mention a few of the highlights in the Rider-Waite deck: "The Fool" (no. 0), "The Empress" (no. 3), "The Lovers" (no. 6), "The Hermit" (no. 9), "The Hanged Man" (no. 12), "Death" (no. 13), "The Tower" (no. 16), "The Sun" (no. 19) and "Judgement" (no. 20). My personal favorite is "The Magician" (no. 1). Tarot iconography has The Magician’s right hand pointing toward the heavens while his left points to the earth, showing his ability to connect the two. In numerology, every number is significant, yet there are three numbers which have special characteristics: 11, 22 and 33. These are the "master numbers". Twenty-two represents the ultimate capacity to make dreams into reality. There are references to 22 on Trinity. In the opening song, "Fallout", there's a line "Twenty-two is the crown". Tarot divination says nothing to me about my life. For my part, I only appreciate the aestetic qualities. Still, twenty-two is the crown. No doubt about it.


shyghostsBusiness is slow in the gothic country genre. Not much sign of life (or death for that matter). But there's actually one Australian artist who is swimming against the tide, namely self-appointed sadsack T.K. Bollinger. He carries all the weight, like Atlas, with the world on his shoulders. The last couple of years he has been releasing albums thick and fast: "Shy Ghosts" (2016), "What’s Left Now You Are Dead To Me" (2017) and "The Tighter You Hold Onto Something The More Likely It Will Fall Apart In Your Hands" (release date July 31, 2018). However, a high rate of production has no intrinsic value. There's an inevitable tradeoff between quantity and quality, especially in music. The gothic country genre is no exception, on the contrary. However, there's no compromise of quality, but definitely a change of direction in this case. T.K. Bollinger doesn't seem to be particularly interested in repeating himself. T.K. Bollinger often dwell on music in general and its function in particular. He has come to the conclusion that music is probably pointless if it doesn't reach out to the listener. He is more than any other artist I have come across interested in how his music is perceived by other people. In any other context, I would probably have made a sardonic remark or written something semi-acidly of our zeitgeist with the presence of vanity, narcissism and constant need for confirmation. But, I know that this interest emanates from genuine curiosity and candid wonderment. The new album in his own words: "This year I’ve been working hard on a bunch of songs that have been tied together by a few interwoven themes. Letting past fears and misfortune go; losing dreams and looking for new hopes. I’ve called this album, somewhat aphoristically, The Tighter You Hold Onto Something The More Likely It Will Fall Apart In Your Hands. For those of you who know my work these songs, while still mining the same sad melodic ore of past recordings, are definitely different in the approach I’ve taken and the musical treatment I’ve applied." The album contains ten songs and is approximately 50 minutes long, which is more of an EP with Bollinger standards. Let's go over and dissect the album.


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I've been pre-listening to the upcoming album for a couple of weeks, but I got stuck on the opening song. All T.K. Bollinger albums begins with a strong opener. This album is no exception. The first song is "Living God" and deals with the ambivalent feeling of loss of waking up from a beautiful dream. "Such dream have a cost / When awake you feel the loss / Since that time I live in hope to find / Paying the price to the living God". The vocals and the instruments are in perfect harmony. The introduction to the album is so epic that for a moment I worry that T.K. Bollinger has burnt everything he got in the opening song. Fortunately, this isn't the case here. So far, so good. However, the shift in style in the second song "Now Or Never" couldn't be greater. It's a funky song, almost dance groove music. It deals, as I understand it, with the long-awaited breakthrough that is bound to happen (any day now). "You may have forgot your self respect / That's not something I'd give up / Not Now or never". The third song "Colour By Numbers" is haunting and deals with what you expect and what you get from life, which is an universal theme. I especially like the chorus: "It's there any wonder we no longer get along? / We coloured love by numbers and got the palate wrong". The arrangement is sparse and built around the vocals. The fourth song "Lurking (Help Me Through The Day)" deals with what helps us make it through the day (not the night, that's another song by Kris Kristofferson). The first line [not shown in the lyrics] is "You help me make it through the day" sounds like it's sung through a vocoder (a category of voice codec that analyzes and synthesizes the human voice signal). This song doesn't belong to the strongest on the album. At this point, I'm beginning to wonder where all this is going. The shift in style isn't drastic, but distinct.


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Now the album ratches up a few notches. The fifth song is "Compassion Fatigue”, which deals with the flame that drives us and what happens when the flame dies. The song is magnificient and built up around restrained vocals and sparse arrangements including, for the genre, extremely unorthodox drumming. The song ends after a long instrumental sequence that eventually fades out. The lyrics are well-written: "Now the flame is gone / And ever song that's sung / Sounds the same / Like we're playing a game". This is classic Bollinger-quality. The sixth song "Colour Blind" is a highlight. The press release really nails it: "In moments of trepidation we must balance our ability to help with our ability to cope. As the laminated card before you says, put your own mask on before assisting other passengers." T.K. Bollinger brings out the finest of his sacral voice. "It's been explained and you've read the cards / The exits are marked / It's up to you do you have the heart / Just put on your mask and breathe a while / Just put on your mask". The albums dips slightly in the seventh song "Get It Right (Sad Bastard)". It deals with a portrait of the artist as an old man. I like the song idea. No one wants to be a sad bastard, but there are actually one or two sad bastards out there in the world. The albums dips further in the eighth song "Where To Now". This is the weakest track on the album. The seventh and eighth songs deviates from and breaks the chain of high quality songs on the latter part of the album. The ninth song "The Least Of All Possible Worlds" is finely-tuned and very elevated. It deals with metaphysics and what is authentic or true reality (expressed in non-physic terms). It's a beautiful song with great lyrics: "Do I feel the tremors from a darker world / Unknown terrors another mer unfurled / Do I ride the wake / Of actions I refused to take / But could have once embraced". The verses and chorus are beautifully intertwined. The tenth and last song is "Trajectories (In Free Fall)". It deals with the habits and choices that are left to direct us on our path through life. This is a perfect album closing song.

And finally, the overall assessment. This a solid album from T.K. Bollinger. But, if you primarily looking for gloom and doom you're going to be disappointed. Bollinger is evolving as an artist. "Shy Ghosts" was dark and gloomy enough to support a whole family. "What’s Left Now You Are Dead To Me" definitely had its dark and gloomy moments, but it wasn't as coherent as "Shy Ghosts". The new album has a more versatile sound than the former albums and is more coherent compared with "What’s Left Now You Are Dead To Me". Themes, arrangement and production have a light touch. T.K. Bollinger is an artist with an unique skill set and has undoubtedly broadened his scope of music creation. The new album is the most accessible of the above-mentioned albums. It would be going too far to claim that this is a sunny album. The new musical direction is hard to pin down and even harder to describe. The music is composed of elements drawn from various sources, but it is safely harboured in hardcore sadcore. I label the direction as "gothic hymnal". Two words comes to mind when listening to the album: insight and meaningfullness. If you're not afraid of human self-reflection (and what you might find) this is an album for you. Personally, I miss the bombastic gloom and doom. You may now ask which of the three above-mentioned albums you must have. My answer is all three of them. Same same, but different.

Best songs: Living God, Compassion Fatigue, Colour Blind andThe Least Of All Possible Worlds.  

The album will be released on July 31th 2018. At the moment it's only available in digital format. T.K. Bollinger has initiated a fund raising campaign for a physical release, read more here (opens in a new window).

If you click on the icons below they will open in a new window, from left to right: Lyrics for "The Tighter You Hold Onto Something The More Likely It Will Fall Apart In Your Hands", T.K. Bollinger's Facebook page, T.K. Bollinger's Homepage and Press kit for "The Tighter You Hold Onto Something The More Likely It Will Fall Apart In Your Hands".

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