The Pine Hill Haints To Win Or To Lose

[K; 2009]

Styles: country-punk, ghost-folk
Others: A more melodic Old Time Relijun, a less melodic Gaslight Anthem

The sole problem with The Pine Hill Haints’ last album, 2007’s Ghost Dance? Simple: too long. The rootsy, ramshackle cowpunk sound that the Haints specialize in has been almost perfected by the band at this point, but the 20-track Dance felt like overkill. Let’s not mince words here: these guys aren’t exactly purveyors of sound expansion, which makes for unintended sonic uniformity when long records are concerned. The songs are still great, but it’s difficult to ascertain why and which ones, making the experience ultimately forgettable.

Their latest record, To Win Or To Lose, doesn’t do them any favors in the length department – there are 16 songs in this latest collection, but a few push the 4- or 5-minute marker, forgoing the relative individual snappiness of Dance’s excesses. One is tempted, though, to get into the semantics of “more is more” when taking this critical road: is there such a thing as too much from a band that’s been pleasingly reliable in their seven-year existence?

The answer: no -- and yes. While album-sorta-opener “Not So Lucky And The Invisible Kid” is shitkicking in its own right, one gets intense déjà vu later on during the rhythmic and melodic similarities of “Never Cry.” The fiddle-assisted ballad “Je Passe Devant Ta Porte” is Pogues-level, tears-in-your-beer beautiful, but the windswept “How Much Poison Does It Take” is close to a carbon copy (albeit with drums and ably strummed acoustic guitar). There are lots to love in these songs, but with their structural sameness, good luck figuring out which one.

Okay, we get it -- the record’s too long, some of the songs sound the same. But this is what makes To Win Or To Lose’s sea-sick shanties so successful: they change the game sonically without becoming a diversion. “Bordello Blackwidow” is sprightly in step, with vocalist Jamie Barrier’s creaky voice pogoing and excitable like Ricky Ricardo’s during a mishap-filled variety show. The funeral, figuratively skeletal “Never Gonna Die” and “My Bones Are Gonna Rise Again” lend credence to the band’s “Alabama ghost music” self-labeling, while the road-stretching, sparse dub of “Screaming Jenny” is a better, more faux-authentic look than the relative glut of cultural approximations that are floating around the internet these days.

Such bright diversions can’t stop To Win Or To Lose from becoming a sometimes tedious affair, but that’s owed to the band’s occasional monochrome tendencies. Those who disagree with the claims of tedium and sameness put forth will find what they want here –- the rest of us, perhaps, as well. It’ll take a bit longer, though.

1. Intro
2. Not So Lucky and the Invisible Kid
3. Charley Horse
4. Bordello Blackwidow
5. Scar
6. Halloween-time All The Time
7. Never Cry
8. Revenge of the Spider-Web Boy
9. Je Passe Devant Ta Porte
10. Never Gonna Die
11. My Bones Are Gonna Rise Again
12. How Much Poison Does It Take
13. The Ranger's Command
14. Screaming Jenny
15. Doublehead
16. You Are My Thief

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