Kristin Hersh’s career has seen her create a number of classic albums with her bands Throwing Muses and 50ftWave, but for many, it’s her solo output that really impresses. Her solo career began in earnest with Hips And Makers back in 1994 (although a version of Throwing Muses’ 1992 album Red Heaven included a solo show), and since then she’s flourished as a solo artist.
Possible Dust Clouds is her 10th solo album, and it finds her changing tack somewhat by involving other musicians more significantly. Hersh describes the album as a “sociopath”, and states that “sociopaths can’t realise their potential without people to work out their grievances on”. In order to remedy this, she invited musicians to join her in the creation of the album (including Throwing Muses alumni Fred Among and Dave Narcizo, and Pond’s Chris Brady).
Hersh’s willingness to include others this time around means that Possible Dust Clouds doesn’t sound much like a bona fide solo album, but rather the creation of a band. Clearly these are songs played by a band and Hersh is at the helm, but the sheer wave of noise and live feel that envelops these songs makes them feel like a cohesive collaborative unit battling though a sonic fuzz.
Not only has Hersh embraced additional musicians, but there’s a definite swing towards distortion and the glory of noise this time around. Gone are the sparse and haunted arrangements that populated the likes of Hips And Makers and Sunny Border Blue or the distinct pop sensibility that informed Echo, this time around Hersh is embracing sonic chaos and obfuscation. This somewhat hazy approach is not only confined to the music, Hersh’s lyrics leave gaps that require a degree of filling in to make sense of. Just as it should be. This desire to ramp up the chaos is indicated on the first few moments of opening track LAX, with its fuzzed-up processed drums hitting heavy behind a squall of bass and guitar.
Sonic assault is present on many of these songs, and it is glorious. Half Way Home might start out relatively gently with strummed guitar, but soon multiple layered vocals enter the fray and a scree of guitar feedback washes across Hersh’s vocals. Fox Point takes a folky Led Zeppelin intro and fuses it to a doom-laden take on Chicago’s 25 0r 6 to 4. It’s a rancorous beast, and one that pushes Hersh’s voice to its limits; scratchy and hoarse, she’s delivering her vocals with a much harsher edge these days. Lethe also takes on a Zeppelin approach as Hersh sings about slowly sinking in sand as she anticipates Lethe (a Greek spirit of oblivion and forgetfulness – which is handy, for at least if oblivion is on the horizon, you’ll forget all about it soon enough).
Harking back to the days of grunge is Loud Mouth, an absolute hammer blow of a song. “Noise crawls through cracks in the wall, drowns out your loud mouth” barks Hersh as the guitars burst into a fearsome cacophony. The song’s relentless rhythm pattern gives it an ominously unstoppable feel, and yet, there’s something joyous about hearing Hersh commanding such an oppressive and forceful song. Tulum sounds like a relative of Fox Point – there are definitely melodic similarities, but this is a far more sparse (at least initially) tune. Awash with sarcasm and dark wit (and possibly a few slugs of tequila), Tulum finds Hersh at her most cutting. “Your freakouts, a lot like fakeouts” she intones, before delivering somewhat chilling lines “lying in a Mexican mortuary, finally found your future: extraordinary calm”.
Breathe In shrouds Hersh’s vocals in distortion, whilst the guitars oscillate around her in a shimmering haze. Only the fibrous pulse of the bass gives something to cling to. It’s a blink and miss it song, but it sums up the album’s ethos quite neatly. It floats like a butterfly and stings like a bee – only this butterfly is fluttering around in a dense, doomy fog and is armed with some seriously heavyweight sonic armoury. It all amounts to Hersh’s harshest offering in sometime, but it’s also the sound of an artist rejuvenated and inspired.