It seems somewhat appropriate that Kristin Hersh should reappear in the same year as one of the Pixies‘ occasional comebacks. For Hersh’s band Throwing Muses have always seemed intertwined with Black Francis’ group – onetime labelmates, touring buddies and sometimes – with Hersh’s step-sister Tanya Donelly joining forces with Kim Deal in The Breeders – musical collaborators.
Yet while the Pixes have shone only occasionally if brightly since their heyday, Hersh has been a far more consistent presence in our lives. As well as maintaining Throwing Muses as a going concern – even bringing Donelly back into the fold a couple of years ago – she’s also recorded under her 50 Foot Wave side-project, and even finds the time for solo albums like this, in which she plays every single instrument herself.
In recent years too, Hersh has taken as much care with the presentation of her albums as with the music. Like Hersh’s last solo album Crooked, and the most recent Throwing Muses record Purgatory/Paradise, Wyatt At The Coyote Palace comes complete with a book full of lyrics, prose and photographs. In these days of instant gratification by download, it’s a pleasure to see an album packaged with such obvious loving care.
Wyatt At The Coyote Palace is named after her son, a teenager on the autistic spectrum who became fascinated with the empty building next to the recording studio where Hersh recorded the album, which has become home to a pack of coyotes. Don’t expect either her lyrics or prose throughout the book to take the form of stories though: much of Hersh’s writing is as typically obtuse and cryptic as it has been throughout her career.
There is, though, a fatigue and world-weariness written through Wyatt At The Coyote Palace – both in Hersh’s fractured voice and in the music. Bubble Wrap talks of clouds, meltdowns and scattered syringes until Hersh just sadly repeats “there’s no tomorrow. there’s no tomorrow” over and over again. There are many references to mortality and illness, but laced with a dark sense of humour to stop things from ever becoming too morbid: Sun Blown is about a car crash but also contains references to “fried post-ablutions”.
Musically, the record hangs between Hersh’s solo fragile acoustic moments and the more ferocious roar of Throwing Muses. August has an irresistible swagger to it (which sadly fades out before it really gets going), and Christmas Underground has some guitar riffs to it that sound absolutely vintage Hersh. The almost apocalyptic howl of the best of the Muses or 50 Foot Wave may not be around, but this is a more restrained, minimal Hersh this time around.
The only problem is that is all feels a bit too sprawling, a bit all over the place. There are two discs worth of 24 tracks to get through, and like a fair few double albums, there’s some filler to negotiate. And while there’s no particularly bad songs, it takes some patience to work your way through the entire album. Some editing, and a bit more focus, would not have gone amiss.
Yet a Kristin Hersh album is always to be welcomed, and there are the usual moments of strange, spectral beauty to be admired of Wyatt At The Coyote Palace. It’s an album that wanders a lot, but every now and again can hold you spellbound, much like Hersh has been doing her entire career.