50 Foot Wave is the latest project from the wonderful Kristin Hersh, founding member of the Throwing Muses and the woman behind a string of inspired solo albums. Given recent events the choice of band name seems unfortunate, but the wave in question is in fact an auditory rather than a meteorological phenomenon, the lowest frequency the human ear can perceive.
Not that it’s really an issue, the band have been together for a good while now. Their spiky, exciting debut mini album, Bug, was released to general approval last summer, three songs from which appear here following a little tweaking: Long Painting, Clara Bow and the thundering Dog Days.
Reuniting with former Muses bassist Bernard Georges, this new trio (completed by drummer Rob Ahlers) sees Hersh making a return to the raw punky sound that characterised the Muses’ early albums. Peppered with pounding drums and aggressive guitar playing, these new songs exude energy. An artist capable of producing the most evocative music with just an acoustic guitar, Hersh’s later solo albums saw her torn between this simple approach and the need to the scream out her songs with a full backing band, a conflict most evident on 1999’s Sky Motel.
Reuniting with the Muses in 2003 to put out a further eponymous album was obviously not enough; 50 Foot Wave’s sound harks back to her former band’s earliest output: jerky, jagged and rough around the edges. Four kids and almost two decades haven’t undermined her abilities as a compelling frontwoman, though her voice, which has grown raspier with each new release, is now somewhat buried in the mix. A shame, as her distinctive stream of consciousness lyrics get a little lost as a result.
And what of the songs? Dog Days remains one of the strongest tracks on the album with its menacing, mosh-friendly interlude. The frantic Clara Bow is a real gem and Petal is very old school Muses, if slightly monotonous with it; the sonic Sally Is A Girl is highly reminiscent of the Pixies, appropriate considering Frank Black‘s seminal group started out supporting the Muses. There are shades of Nirvana here too; Kristin Hersh remains one of the few artists who can pull off that comparison.
As an album, Golden Ocean is not a complete success. It would benefit from a little more textural variety and you do sometimes wish Hersh’s poetic lyrics could be a little clearer. There are no knock-you-off-your-feet tracks to be found here. Instead you get to witness a band revelling in the simplicity of their new/old sound. “A shiny object caught my eye,” Hersh confesses on Dog Days, a perceptive statement for an artist who seems so driven to continue evolving. 50 Foot Wave may not be to the taste of everyone who was drawn to her solo stuff, but what remains undeniable is that, numerous albums into her career, Kristin Hersh is still capable of surprising.