Taking time to get under your skin, once its there it rewards, enchants, and disturbs. It’s another wonderful addition to her canon
Kristin Hersh‘s 12th album under her own name, Clear Pond Road, once again finds her treading her own path. She always has done, even when working within the confines of a band dynamic. Throwing Muses and 50 Foot Wave all benefitted from Hersh’s presence; her way of approaching lyrics, playing guitar and of course, vocalising what was passing through her mind, all shone through.
Once heard, Hersh’s voice is instantly recognisable. Over the last few years, it might have become a little rougher around the edges and deepened just a little, but there’s no mistaking those tones, nobody sings like she does. On her latest album, those vocals have the ability to take you on a kaleidoscopic journey. At times gentle and cooing, at others, confused and full of regret, and every now and again, rasping and angry, Hersh takes us with her down the road, as we try to grab glimpses of life as it passes by.
Clear Pond Road is a fairly stripped back affair, and not unlike her first solo foray, 1994’s Hips & Makers, foregrounds her vocals and acoustic guitar. There’s a little finessing here and there with very basic percussion and strings, but ultimately, to spend time with this album is to metaphorically sit with Hersh, gazing out over a glassy pond and have her sing directly to you and you alone. Of course this being Hersh, things are never entirely clear, there’s always a constant struggle between dark and light, clarity and distortion, straight talking and abstraction. So, whilst these songs hint at deeply personal moments and feelings, the sum of these songs parts can easily lead to different conclusions. The only thing that is certain is that they offer glimpses into Hersh’s life, and every so often, these scattered images and sentences combine to create some kind of hazy, emotionally charged (w)hole.
Just because it’s not always entirely clear what these songs are about (although there is clearly a lot of loss, reflection, and scattered memories) doesn’t mean that these songs don’t hit home. Part of Clear Pond Road’s charm is the way that it throws out imagery that makes a kind of sense albeit passed through some kind of specialised Rat Girl filter. On Dandelion, there’s “rusty railings, my boots slipping”, elsewhere there’s “the Mickey D’s arches free falling across I-5”, or she’s to be found “walking Jackson Square off the rails”; the album even opens with a song titled Bewitched Reruns, a definite Proustian moment for anyone of a certain age. These images and ideas are soaked with familiarity and yet, when sung by Hersh and given barely any context, they suddenly become washed with uneasy emotion.
The songs that populate the album take a little while to fully unfurl themselves, and in that respect, this is not as an immediate album as Hips & Makers, but there’s depth here that rewards repeated visits. Ms Haha comes across like a detuned thrumming take on Yeah Yeah Yeahs‘ Gold Lion and is possibly the only earworm on the album. Dandelion begins with gentle picked guitar and swelling strings, it’s mournful and beautiful, but over its duration it morphs into something far more confused. Thank You, Corner Blight is a dark and foreboding foray into blues territory. The baritone guitar and lends a tone not unlike that of Dylan Carlson‘s Earth, whilst Hersh’s rasping vocals give the song a slightly apocalyptic feel.
The highlight of the album is Eyeshine, which finds Hersh switching between childlike delivery and scathing sarcasm. As the song progresses, her voice starts to crack audibly as a solitary drum thunders, summoning ominous clouds and revelation. It’s a quite startling moment, and one of the finest moments of, not only Clear Pond Road, but Hersh’s career. Clear Pond Road is an album that takes time to really get under your skin, but once its there, it continues to reward, enchant, and disturb. It’s another wonderful addition to the Hersh canon.