by Patrick Pilch (@pratprilch)
PAX is the creative alias of musician and songwriter Madeline Link. Since PAX’s inception in 2014, the solo project has grown through a series of sonically contemplative releases, each an individual benchmark in the songwriter’s steady progression. From the hyper lo-fi debut perverted comments to the Ouch-foreshadowing HYPHAE, PAX’s records are distinct, charting Link’s experimental pop trajectory in real time. Art of the Uncarved Block have reissued PAX’s latest tape and it is utterly transcendent. Ouch is staggeringly lucid—the stunning, culminating result of Link’s previous visionary efforts made whole.
Sonically, Ouch is a weird album. Double-tracked vocals drift between open string acoustic strums, producing both tension and space within Link’s unhindered approach. While Ouch marks PAX’s most straightforward release, the project’s instrumental template remains. Warm warbles of Link’s signature Casio SK-1 complement the dissociative “Nonono” and “Second Grade,” repurposing the vintage synth on some of PAX’s most deliberately melodic compositions yet. Ouch’s forgiving “WIP” is detached and just as disorienting as its equally surreal visual supplement, all of which are informative appendices to the artist’s one-of-a-kind bedroom psychedelia.
With Ouch’s physical pressing comes two excellent bonus tracks; reissue victory laps “Crane Girl” and “Dry Your Eyes.” The latter encapsulates Ouch’s crushing melancholy and bright treble charm through Link’s discerning croons: “I can tell that you’ve been crying in your sleep,” they sing before sympathizing with the “fears [that] follow you in your dreams.” The track’s chorus resembles the descending la-la’s of “Nonono,” earworming hooks certain to burst into one’s consciousness at a later date.
“Crane Girl” most likely references the infamous Toronto woman who scaled a crane, slid down its cable and waited for assistance on the hook block, crying out for help in the small hours of the night. The story is both terrifying and beautiful, hilarious and unsettling in the details that so casually place an individual’s personal issues on display. It paints a picture ripe for generational critique as the story reflects a demographic’s state of psychiatric decay—a floating island of mental illness. Ouch bears semblance to this gentle pendulum of isolation: wavering, distant, beautiful, fucked.
Melodically, Ouch is hopeful and clean; the record is Link’s most succinct and singular tape. Its stripped back approach is absorbing and referential, making the 16-minute album play out like one song. Ouch marks Madeline Link’s organic, clear-eyed pivot into PAX’s most realized work to date.