Pistol Annies: Annie Up

What they might lose in flair, they gain in severity, perspective, focus and the strength of their connection to the well of deep sadness at the center of the country-music tradition.

Pistol Annies

Annie Up

Label: Sony Nashville
US Release Date: 2013-05-07
UK Release Date: 2013-05-06

Much of the appeal of Pistol Annies’ debut album, Hell on Heels, was the way the three singers -- Miranda Lambert, Angeleena Presley and Ashley Monroe -- took what seemed like a slim concept (that of mistreated women with a rebellious streak) and filled it up with emotions, stories and personas of interest. Annie Up, with a title resembling what might come after a colon in that of a Hollywood sequel, takes that filling-out a few steps further, in part by removing the vague resemblance they’ve had to a stage revue and working in more blues, patience and density. The tone is less introductory -- less "we’re pill-taking housewives, nice to meet you." They roll more naturally, confidently into a similar milieu. What they might lose in flair, they gain in severity, perspective, focus and the strength of their connection to the well of deep sadness at the center of the country-music tradition.

The songs can still be lightweight (“Damn Thing”) or medium-weight (“Don’t Talk About Him, Tina”), but there also are some damn serious heartbreak ballads. “Trading One Heartbreak for Another” is a tearjerker among tearjerkers. A woman breaks free from a bad relationship, only to listen to her devastated son crying for his daddy and feel her heart break all over again, for another reason. The words chosen are devastating ones, too: “I’m finally alive / but it’s killing who I’m living for.”

Two of the most intense ballads on the album are written in the form of letters -- one to sadness itself (“Blues, You’re a Buzzkill”) and the other to a sobriety that’s hard to keep (“Dear Sobriety”). The former uses a slow pace and pretty tone to its benefit. It’s classic country material -- that feeling that even the strongest alcohol, the most potent drugs, wouldn’t be powerful enough to help her shake her sorrow. “Dear Sobriety” has a similar pace, a careful one mimicking the approach of a well-intentioned person who knows intentions alone will be for naught.

“A fuller sound” might be music-critic nonsense, but still it feels appropriate. As good as Hell on Heels was in the context of 2011’s country music output, much of it seems, in retrospect, quite thin in comparison to this album. The lyrics are carefully written and thoughtfully sung; the arrangements share similar qualities, with settings that suit the songs and brief solos that come in and echo the song’s emotions in a way that feels perfect, something that seems to be getting rarer in the world of popular music. There also are some rock ‘n’ roll tricks used to good effect. “Loved by a Working Man” starts off with big power chords. They fade, but offer a study backbone meant to back up the song’s portrait of a rough but reliable working man. “Unhappily Married” uses the great old trick of playing and singing quietly and then coming in with a big resounding chorus, backed by a punch of guitar and drums. That approach helps draw out the anger within the song’s litany of complaints against marriage, not to mention the boisterous way they resign themselves to a life of unhappiness. There’s real bite, an almost punk sneer here: “You’re going bald and I’m getting fat / I hate your mom and you hate my dad.”

The opening track, “I Feel a Sin Comin’ On”, begins with the women singing over the snaps of fingers, singing about lusty feelings aching in their bones. The line “please Jesus don’t hold me back / I know it ain’t mine but I want it so bad” evokes the notion of virginity pledges taken by evangelical youth. In the last minute, they deliver a power strike that echoes the hard-rock tendencies of some of their peers (Eric Church, Jason Aldean) without shaking the steel guitar or the fingersnaps. Within both of those songs is a rejoinder towards the hypocrisy of organized religion that’s also shown up in Lambert’s and Monroe’s solo work. The lighter-in-tone, played-for-laughs single “Hush Hush” pokes some similar holes into the piousness of families, not to mention the true stories behind Southern gentility. A family gathers for the holidays and everyone does their best to keep the truth hidden behind their smiling faces, to pretend they’re not a mess. Monroe voices the perspective of someone who gets enough of it and lets loose -- getting high and drunk, dancing on the table. When she sings “this little light of mine / God gave it to me / what good’s it gonna do me / if I don’t by God / let it shine,” it’s hard for me to not contrast it with Lady Antebellum’s use of a Bible song for opposite purposes (read: to be cute and faithful) at the end of their latest album.

Where a few of the songs take a critical poke at societal expectations of what families should be like, “Being Pretty Ain’t Pretty” does something similar with societal expectations of women, specifically when it comes to standards of beauty. It’s a lazy-day ballad with a comfortable tone, while they sing about the discomfort in trying to live up to unreal expectations. The song describes the monotony of beauty practices, with a chorus summing up that monotony: “Being pretty ain’t pretty / it takes all day long / you spend all your money / just to wipe it all off.” The song’s perspective is self-critical, but there are larger "why" questions embedded in that scrutiny.

The second-to-last track “Girls Like Us” has a similar lyric, a scene where a woman dresses up in the proper housewife role to keep the appearance that she’s keeping everything together, when underneath she’s dealing with more complexity. The song, though, is less a work of sadness than of celebration. It’s an anthem that purposely uses Lambert -- the most famous voice here -- to kick off the big chorus. The song is a tribute to strong-willed women which in one sweeping step sort of ties together all of the wild, complicated and feisty women in all of their songs and presents them as everywomen. “Don’t girls like us / make the world go round and round,” they ask, in the process revealing their outlaw personas to be intended as universal. It's an expression of what people are really like, beneath the tidy and made-up surfaces of the world.


From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less

If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star Salim Shaheen, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people.

"Now I am just more tired and poor. So no, I haven't changed. I'm just older and more tired," says French radio journalist and documentarian Sonia Kronlund, as she looks back on the experience of making The Prince of Nothingwood (2017).

Joining Salim Shaheen, the most popular and prolific actor-director-producer in Afghanistan on his 111th no budget feature, Kronlund documents the week-long shoot and the events surrounding it. She crafts an insight into a larger than life persona, yet amidst the comedy and theatricality of Shaheen and his troupe of collaborators, she uncovers the heavier tones of the everyday reality of war and patriarchal oppression. If The Prince of Nothingwood will popularly be remembered for celebrating the creative spirit of its star, it is equally an important communication on Afghanistan, it's culture and its people. Alongside the awareness of the country cultivated by mainstream media news outlets, Kronlund's film offers an insight into a country that can humanise the prejudice and xenophobic tendencies of a western perspective towards Afghanistan.

In October of this year at the UK premiere at the BFI London Film Festival, Kronlund spoke with PopMatters about being driven by questions rather than inspiration. She also reflected on the subjective nature of documentary filmmaking, the necessary artistic compromises of filming in Afghanistan, and feeling a satisfaction with imperfections.

Why filmmaking as a means of expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment?

Not really, no. I have always done documentary. I used to write scripts and TV series but I only make documentaries myself for radio and television. For this story, I figured out after a while that it deserved a bigger ambition and a bigger screen and that's why I don't very much believe in inspiration. To be honest, I made this film because I had to do something. I didn't have a big project where I thought: I want to make this. I went there and I found a little money and at the end the ambition and the inspiration came along the way. But there was not an urgent necessity to make this film. It fits with a lot of things that I'm interested in, like popular culture -- What does art stand for and why do we go to the cinema? What is the purpose? This is a question I'm interested in, but inspiration, not so much.

Has The Prince of Nothingwood provided you with the answers to those questions?

It has, and I hope it helps people to think about this question. It tells you that there is an urgent need to make images, to make films, even during war,and even if you don't have the money. And even if the films are not very good, they will find somebody who will like them. So something is going to happen, and I think that's very touching. I don't like Shaheen's films, I hardly watched them -- I paid somebody to watch them. But I'm very moved by all these people that do like his films, and it makes you think about the value of art and the purpose of why we make cinema. I used to study aesthetics in London, so it was one of the questions I had and while the film is lighter than this, that's what was in mind.

The film uses Shaheen as a doorway, beginning as a story about one man which becomes a story about Afghanistan, its people and culture.

Yeah, but it's not so much about Afghanistan and it's not my purpose is to say things about the country. There's one guy like him in Iran who makes cowboy movies in the Iranian desert and there's also a guy like that in Tunisia. I mean you have this person with an urgent need to film whatever they have under their hand and since it's war, then it tells you something about the war. But it's not so much interested in him.

There was a lot of editing, 148 hours that you haven't seen [laughs]. Making a documentary is really telling a story and I don't have any idea of objectivity -- it is my point of view on Shaheen. Some people say to me that they would like to show his films, that they really want to see his films, and I say: "You don't see how much I have edited. I show you the very nice parts of his films." People think he's a great filmmaker and that's the story I wanted to tell -- but I could have told another story.

To my mind, objectivity is a human construct, a falsity that does not exist.

Except mathematics maybe, and sometimes physics.

The purist opinion of documentary as objective is therein built on a faulty premise. From the subjective choices of the filmmakers that bleed into the film to the subjectivity of the subjects, it's not purely objective. Hence, it calls into question the traditional dividing line of the objectivity of documentary and the subjectivity of narrative fiction.

Totally! It's the editing, and why you chose this guy, how you film it and what you show, or what you don't show. It's not only subjectivity, it's storytelling. Not many people ask me about this, they take it for granted that it's the real Shaheen. But I'm not lying, I'm not saying things that aren't true, but I am telling a story, a fictional story out of what I filmed. I took scenes that happened one day and I put them with another story that happened three months later and that's why we had seven months of editing with three editors. So it was a lot of work.

One of the striking aspects of the film are the light and comedic moments offset by a darker and heavier sensibility, which include moments when, for example, Shaheen talks about arranged marriages.

We made 70rough cuts and there was one version we tested and you couldn't believe you were in Afghanistan. People would say: "Oh this is too funny. You don't see Afghanistan, it's just a bunch of crazy guys." I then said: "Let's put in a little more darkness." You then have to strike a balance and to me, if it's not perfect, I'm happy.

Shooting the film in a dangerous and volatile part of the world, was the approach that once you had enough footage you then looked to shaping the film in the edit?

It's not when you feel you have enough, it's finding a balance between security and artistic concerns. That's it. You have a plan and you have an agenda. There are things you want to do, but it has to be balanced with security concerns. The real story I was going to tell about Shaheen I found in the editing room and in the end, I only kept five days of the shoot. The whole film takes place in Bamyan (Province), nothing in Kabul, although I had weeks and weeks of footage there that I had to take away.

There's a moment when Shaheen asks if you are scared, which sees him verbalise our silent recognition of your boldness and courage to bring this story to the screen.

It's very difficult and it's not like you are walking in the street and there's a bomb. This is not what's difficult. The difficulty is to cope with your fear and to have rules and to follow or to not follow those rules. There are many foreign people that never go out at all in Kabul -- it is forbidden. You have British diplomats who do not even drive their car from the airport to the embassy -- they will take an helicopter that costs £2,000 each way. Then you have foreign people who walk in the street without a scarf -- these girls get kidnapped.

In between these you have Shaheen, who is telling me all the time that I'm too scared, because it's a man's value to be brave and he's a brave guy, there's no question about that. He was in an attack two weeks ago. There was a bomb in a Shia Mosque and he helped to carry out the bodies. So there's no kidding about the fact that he's a brave guy and he has to be because he's been fighting to make his films. But you are in the middle of this and I'm not a brave person at all and I don't think being brave is a very important question. It is, but I'm not brave, I'm very scared and so in the middle of all of this stress it's enough just to manage to not go crazy, or to not drink too much [laughs].

Salim Shaheen and Sonia Kronlund (courtesy of Pyramide Films)

Related Articles Around the Web

People aren't cheering Supergirl on here. They're not thanking her for her heroism, or even stopping to take a selfie.

It's rare for any hero who isn't Superman to gain the kind of credibility that grants them the implicitly, unflinching trust of the public. In fact, even Superman struggles to maintain that credibility and he's Superman. If the ultimate paragon of heroes struggles with maintaining the trust of the public, then what hope does any hero have?

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.