Sunday, October 23, 2016

Wonderland: My Review Of The New Book And CD Release From Kristin Hersh (Throwing Muses, 50 Foot Wave)

No one has had more luck at translating the language of those voices in your head into songs than Kristin Hersh. The founder of Throwing Muses, leader of 50 Foot Wave, and acclaimed solo artist is ramping up to the release of her new book-and-2CD-set Wyatt at the Coyote Palace. The collection drops this coming Friday in the U.K., and in the U.S. a few weeks after that and it is, easily, one of her most ambitious solo releases so far. And, yeah, saying that I'm well aware of how bold the last Throwing Muses release was. On that one, Kristin and her crew offered up a book and tons of music, a project reviewed by me here. This one feels different mainly due to the fact that this is entirely a Kristin Hersh solo record.

Playing everything on these 24 tracks, Hersh has created her own sound universe again, those voices tempered down and capable of unfolding mysterious tales now. As she said recently in a quote included in the promotional material for Wyatt at the Coyote Palace:

"But it's always felt to me that songs were pushing my life around so they could be born: I live the stories and then the song lives. Very much like children. A baby isn't born because you got pregnant, you got pregnant because a baby was going to be born."

And while in the old Muses days that sort of thinking made perfect, if odd, sense when one heard material like "Mania" or "Fish", corrosive-yet-exhilarating bursts of the Hersh genius, it now seems even odder. I say that 'cause the material here is remarkably thought-out and evenly paced. If these tracks were inside Kristin all along, they certainly were well-formed; she gave birth to some of her most cohesive solo material this time out. Disc 1 offers up the intimate "Secret Codes" not too soon before it yields the Zeppelin lurch of "Hemingway Tell", Hersh having found a way to work up a new effect on these every bit as unique as the tempo shifts on her early tracks. Stuff like "Wonderland" seems anxious and relaxed at the same time, if that makes any sense at all. And if "Diving Bell" near the end of CD 1 seems vaguely like early R.E.M., a nod in the direction of some-time collaborator Stipe, then the one-two punch of "Killing Two Birds" and "Guadalupe" finishes off the disc with a whole lot of power, both cuts echoing moments from glam rock and shoegaze traditions admirably.

The second half of Wyatt at the Coyote Palace quickly gets moving with the sway of "August" and the near-furious strums of "Sunblown", Hersh here sounding like nothing so much as Patti Smith commandeering a mariachi band. If "Soma Gone Slapstick" is the single-worthy single, all clear hooks, then the superb "Between Piety and Desire" is the rocker with the ascending Page-like guitar figure. If I had to guess, Hersh has got a dogged copy of Led Zeppelin III in her collection, or maybe just the second LP from Physical Graffiti. More than ever, she's brushing up against near-blues styles here, which makes some sense given her New Orleans connections, to create a new style for herself. Yes, this is a Kristin Hersh solo album but it sounds nothing like Sunny Border Blue (2001) to me, if you know what I mean. Kristin has harnessed a new kind of power this time out and one can play these seemingly disparate songs, soundtracks to stories all, and hear so much force, force that's unlike what was on offer on those early Throwing Muses sides, and unlike the stark folk of her Nineties solo albums.

If Throwing Muses shows off Kristin Hersh the poet, the one with an amp, and 50 Foot Wave serves as a highlight reel for her skill as a musician, then this double-album, the start of a new era in her solo career, parades her talents as a storyteller, one capable of using every instrument at her fingertips to evoke meaning and convey her tales. And, sure, her musicianship on this mammoth set is more than impressive, but it's the very nature of the project, the presentation itself, that makes this all work so well. Even more than Purgatory/Paradise from Throwing Muses, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace stands as a self-contained piece of art, full of the things we all love about this woman's work, and full of so many moments that charm and inspire. And as things end on the noisy lullaby of "Shotgun", one can hear echoes of both "Walking in the Dark" and "Your Ghost" here, Hersh having now harnessed her peak-moment talents and put them to work so efficiently.

A work that on paper seems so sprawling, so disparate, but one which one finds so cohesive and enveloping when approached attentively, Wyatt at the Coyote Palace is clearly one of Kristin Hersh's best solo releases. The near-folk of earlier solo records has fangs this time out, real bits of menace akin to what we raged with on those first Muses long-players so long ago. Having found a new sound, of a sort, Hersh is to be applauded for making something that echoes so much of what we follow her for. How could any fan not love this one?

Wyatt at the Coyote Palace by Kristin Hersh is out on Friday in certain territories, and a few weeks later in others. Either way, order or pre-order it now. More details via KristinHersh.com, 'natch. [Photo: Peter Mellekas]