Throwing Muses


(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Throwing Muses , 7/10
Fat Skier , 5/10
Hunkpapa , 5/10
House Tornado , 6/10
Real Ramona , 6.5/10
Red Heaven , 6/10
Kristin Hersh: Hips And Makers , 7/10
Kristin Hersh: Strings , 5/10
University , 7/10
Limbo , 5/10
Kristin Hersh: Strange Angels , 7/10
Kristin Hersh: Murder Misery and Goodnight, 4/10
Kristin Hersh: Sky Motel, 6/10
Lakuna: Castle Of Crime , 5/10
Kristin Hersh: Sunny Border Blue , 5/10
Kristin Hersh: The Grotto , 6/10
Throwing Muses , 5/10
50 Foot Wave: Golden Ocean (2005), 4/10
Kristin Hersh: Learning To Sing Like A Star (2007), 6.5/10
Links:

(Translated from my original Italian text by Nicholas Green) (Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Throwing Muses were formed in 1984 by two young women from Rhode Island, Kristin Hersh (first singer and guitarist) and her half-sister Tanya Donelly (second singer and guitarist), both of whom grew up in hippie communes and both of whom were very young.

Through a series of lineup changes they arrived at their first (self-produced) EP in 1984 (and their first cassette, also self-produced, in 1985), garnering them enough notoriety to get signed to English label 4AD, which put out their first (self-titled) album in 1986.

Their style was a post-folk post-punk, one half carried by Hersh's intensely emotional vocalizations and the other half carried by Dave Narcizo's raucous, ramshackle rhythms, one half inspired by the Violent Femmes and the other half inspired by the Talking Heads. Their first album captivated listeners with the enigmatic, contrite nature of such songs as Call Me (a warlike folk-rock lament), Hate My Way (one of their classics, borrowing a Native American ritualism) America (country-rock with a sarcastic edge), ultimately flowing into violent pathos on the acoustic ballad Delicate Cutters. The acrobatics of Hersh (inspired by Kate Bush) and Narcizo (inspired by skiffle and jug bands), expressed in songs like Green and Rabbits Dying, are confined to a nameless limbo of the song form, up to the pinnacle of experimentalism in Fear, which samples vocals and noise. Vicky's Box crowns the singer's descent into an inner hell.
The best of their dramaturgical artistry is perhaps found on Soul Soldier, which starts off with Narcizo's frenetic drumming, thereafter being allowed to flutter in psychedelic chords.

If English is your first language and you could translate this text, please contact me.

L'EP Chains Changed (1987) contiene altre due intense ballate, Cry Baby Cry and Finished. Sul mini-album Fat Skier (4AD, 1987) risaltano pero` soprattutto i limiti di questi tardi hippie dell'avanguardia rock: le pose alternative e i testi (falsamente) crudi sembrano essere piu` reali della capacita` di scrivere buone canzoni. Hersh comunque pennella A Feeling and Donelly Pools In The Eyes.

Non a caso House Tornado (Sire, 1989) tenta spudoratamente la carta del pop. Ma nessuna delle mediocri composizioni ha la forza di imporsi per i propri meriti. L'album vale comunque come l'embrione della seconda stagione del gruppo. Le intuizioni di Downtown, Juno, Run Letter e Giant (di Donelly) costituiranno le fondamenta del sound degli anni '90. Hersh, appena ventenne, e` gia` ragazza madre, e le e` stata diagnosticata una forma di schizofrenia.

In A Doghouse (Rykodisc, 1998) is a reissue of the first two official releases plus some rarities.

Con il passare degli anni si e` messa semmai sempre piu` in luce la chitarrista Donelly, ai tempi dell'esordio ancora adolescente. E` lei a cesellare Angel e Dragonhead per Hunkpapa (Sire, 1989) e la dolcissima Not Too Soon e Honey Chain per Real Ramona (Sire, 1991). Se il primo annovera anche Devil's Roof, Bea e Mania, il secondo risolleva un po' le sorti del gruppo, grazie a qualche brano meno ovvio del solito: la danza spigliata di Golden Thing, il farnetico di Hook In Her Head (fra Chrissie Hynde e Patti Smith), la romantica Graffiti (all'incrocrio fra Tom Petty e Police) e soprattutto Red Shoes; composizioni meno ambiziose ma anche meglio realizzate (per esempio) della scontata Counting Backwards.

Non a caso Donelly ha iniziato nel 1990 anche una carriera parallela con le Breeders e nel 1991 ha fondato i Belly con il bassista Fred Aborg (che era subentrato nei Throwing Muses a Leslie Langton). Le omelie disperate di Hersh, invece, sembrano sempre piu` insignificanti, per quanto lei continui a cantare di manie suicide e di crisi depressive (per esempio in Dizzy o Mania, le migliori di Hunkpapa). Hersh non e` una Stevie Nickes che cerca di fare la Diamanda Galas (come un critico ebbe a scrivere), e` semplicemente una Natalie Merchant di provincia che cerca di fare la Grace Slick piu` profana.

Cosi` su Red Heaven (Sire, 1992) sono rimasti soltanto Hersh e Narcizo, e la leader puo` dare libero sfogo alle proprie dolorose masturbazioni (Stroll, Summer St) e alle proprie libidini pop (Firepile e Pearl). Hersh si scopre allieva del registro scontroso di Patti Smith.

I Throwing Muses erano stati a lungo il tipico esempio di gruppo che viene sopravvalutato dalla critica per via delle sue pose intellettuali (e dell'accurato battage pubblicitario di una casa discografica "trendy"). Con Red Heaven trovarono l'ispirazione.

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Barely 27 but already a divorced mother whose child lives with his father, Hersh decided to record her first solo, Hips And Makers (4AD, 1994). A very private work, entirely acoustic and sparsely arranged (Jane Scarpantoni on cello and Michael Stipe on one song), it is a tender and shy self-tribute via a stream of consciousness that reaches the depths of her soul. From the mildly epic Your Ghost to the childish piano-based lullaby Beestung to the busy Apalachian texture of The Cuckoo Hersh displays a broad artistic palette. Hersh pours her heart in the tense cinematic melodrama of Sundrops and in the emotional madrigal of Me and My Charms, compositions that she delivers with the passion of a bluesman singing from a prison.
Occasionally, Hersh displays the confidence and the vehemence of a tiger, as in A Loon, that borrows from plantation shouts and Irish protest songs and boasts a stern, sinister riff, or in the dark and emphatic Houdini Blues, or in the frantic and almost dissonant Close Your Eyes. A strong sense of rhythm and a mesmerizing instinct for theatrical action in music enhance the story told by each song to quasi-mythological status.

Some of these songs were later re-arranged and re-recorded in a somewhat baroque format, with string orchestra and all, for Strings (Sire, 1994).

If English is your first language and you could translate this text, please contact me.

La musica di University (Sire, 1995), il nuovo album dei Throwing Muses, e` maturata e al tempo stesso si e` complicata: cadenze sincopate, riff spinosi e melodie sporche rimandano persino alla new wave. Rispetto al disco solista di Hersh, si tratta comunque di un'opera leggera e spensierata. Il trio (David Narcizo alla batteria, Bernard Georges al basso, ma soprattutto Hersh stessa alla chitarra) e` in forma superba nelle ballate grintose e amare di Bright Yellow Gun e Hazing, che trasudano grinta e passione. Il sound assordante della chitarra e il wit psicopatico del canto pennellano la foschia psichedelica di No Way In Hell e l'anemia atmosferica di Surf Cowboy. L'esperienza solista di Hersh ispira That's All You Wanted (echi della song rinascimentale) e Flood (contrappunto classicheggiante).
In sostanza Hersh sembra voler procedere su due piani: quello piu` sperimentale e classicheggiante dei suoi album solisti, e quello piu` commerciale e rock dei dischi con il gruppo.

Ma Limbo (Rykodisc, 1996) e` una raccolta di litanie mosce (Ruthie's Knocking il singolo, Serene, Tango, Freeloader), suonate svogliatamente. Il gruppo si scioglie.

(Clicka qua per la versione Italiana)

Kristin Hersh, now a mother of three and relocated to Southern California, resumed her solo career with Strange Angels (Rykodisc, 1998), another acoustic excursus. The music is not only spare and austere: it is as cold as ice, as ascetic as a nun's rosary. Hersh screams her hermetic lyrics in bluesy odes like Home or Stained ("You're just like me, two spiders hanging from a tree"), but finds her true voice in the breezy, colloquial storytelling of Like You, Pale and Some Catch Flies (accented by the piano). The classical composure of Cold Water Coming (in which the guitar mirrors a harpsichord playing a baroque fugue) is quintessential Hersh, and the harrowing drama of Gazebo Tree becomes her lonely howl, but salvation lies in the tenderly dreamy quality (a` la Leonard Cohen's "songs from a room") of Aching For You.
Hersh does not sacrifice much to mass appeal. The most "commercial" move comes when the catchy refrain of Shake is echoed by an epic figure of the piano. Were they arranged with the usual profusion of instruments, most of these tunes would be pop or country hits.

Sky Motel (4AD, 1999) is another solo Kristin Hersh album, but it sounds like a Throwing Muses reunion. Hersh has abandoned the acoustic format and embraced again the electric, oblique folk-rock format of her old band. But the quiet-loud contrasts in the Breeders vein of Echo and the folk-psychedelic contrast in the Syd Barrett vein of Costa Rica are a sign of things to come. Far from realizing her potential commercial, Hersh has pushed the envelop even further. Somehow the arrangements lend her the strength to try new creative avenues, more eccentric settings, like in the free-form chattering of Husk or in the convoluted jamming and storytelling of Cathedral Heat. Spring and Clay Feet could be half-spoken Patti Smith sermons. Basically, what she gives with one hand (more pleasant sounds, more dynamics) she takes with the other hand (less melody, less linearity). Hidden in the cacophony, the brief distorted boogie of Fog seems to come from another studio. A Cleaner Light, a catchy folk-rocker, would represent a peak of Throwing Muses' career. It is hard to reconcile it with the other tracks. This is Hersh's conceptual record, a far cry from the tenuous folksinger of the previous year, and it ends appropriately with a reverb-drenched nihilistic wail, Faith.

Murder, Misery and Goodnight was a collection of traditional folk music.

Lakuna is the project of Throwing Muses' drummer Dave Narcizo and his friend Frank Gardner. Castle Of Crime (4AD, 1999) is a competent but hardly ground-breaking of sample-based trip-hop.

The sparse arrangements on Sunny Border Blue (4AD, 2001), Kristin Hersh's self-produced and mostly self-played album, contrast with the sumptuous orchestrations of Sky Motel and mark a return to the humbler style of Strange Angels. Spain is the archetype for the entire first half. The mood is more subdued than ever, the singer leaving aside issues of delusion, remorse and failure. Only towards the end (Summer Salt, Measure, Ruby, Listerine) does Hersh find the pace of the epic minstrel.

In 2003 Kristin Hersh simultaneously released a new solo album (her sixth) alongside a new Throwing Muses album. The Grotto (4AD, 2003) is a spare, meditatational affair that harks back to Hips and Makers. Giant Sand's Howe Gelb and violinist Andrew Bird lend a hand to enliven what would otherwise be stark, ghostly dirges. If her chronicles of domestic life (Sno Cat, Arnica Montana) are not terribly interesting, the textural background, driven by either violin (Deep Wilson, Silver Sun, the hypnotic lullaby Ether) or piano (the charming Vanishing Twin, Vitamins V), are intriguing enough to justify even the most tedious lyrics.

Throwing Muses (4AD, 2003), which reunites Hersh with drummer Dave Narcizo, bassist Bernard Georges and Tanya Donnely (but only on backing vocals), is a poppier, more upbeat collection (Mercury).

Kristin Hersh's first group project since Throwing Muses was 50 Foot Wave, a trio with bassist Bernard Georges and drummer Rob Ahlers. The six-song EP 50 Foot Wave (Throwing Music, 2004) found her in an unusually aggressive mode (Hersh plays the electric guitar in an almost hard-rock style), with songs such as Glory Weed, Long Painting and especially Clara Bow erupting out of the speakers instead of her heart. Hersh seems completely lost on Golden Ocean (Throwing Music, 2005). Her legendary delivery turns clumsy amid the hardcore noise of her band.

The solo Learning To Sing Like A Star (Yep Roc, 2007) largely returned Hersh to the sound of the Throwing Muses. It features some of Hersh's jarring solo work ever, both musically and lyrically: Vertigo, In Shock, Day Glow, Wild Vanilla. The contrast between sharp guitars, pounding drums, warm piano and neoclassical strings is particularly effective. She even drifts into slo-core with the closing Thin Man, that could fit on a Yo La Tengo album.

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