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Throwing Muses
Sun Racket Sean Kitching , September 4th, 2020 09:21

Throwing Muses first album in seven years is a stunning return to form that manages to sound both tough and tender. Its ten songs evince an empathic strength that serve as a welcome balm to the difficult times we’re currently living through, finds Sean Kitching

Throwing Muses have occupied a special place in my heart since I first saw them play, supporting the Pixies at the Town And Country Club in Kentish Town in May 1988. It was only my third ‘proper’ concert, and one that saw my allegiances shift, at least a little, from the more straightforward, noisy attack of the Pixies to the subtler, yet stranger charms of the Muses. Their first two albums and The Fat Skier EP, have aged incredibly well and still sound unlike anything else. Although they never entirely went away, to reform years later in a lesser incarnation, as have many such bands of their era, Throwing Muses are yet to receive the wider appreciation they deserve. Certain passages of Kristin Hersh’s excellent memoir, Rat Girl, suggest an artist who has struggled to reconcile her own boundless creativity with the kind of compromises necessary for commercial success in the music industry. Yet they undoubtedly remain, as a quote from this site that appears on the cover of their new album, Sun Racket, would have it: “One of America’s finest guitar bands.”

In contrast to 2013's sprawling, 32-track Purgatory/Paradise, which came with a book of essays and additional artwork, Sun Racket is a more concentrated, rockier affair. The majority of the tracks move at a mid-tempo pace, yet the album’s deliberately rough-edged sound, courtesy of Hersh and long-serving Muses producer, Steve Rizzo, imbues the deceptively simple songs with a beguiling texture and serious sense of gravity that perfectly befits the singer's voice as it is today. 2020 has been a terrible year for world events but a pretty great one for new music. Whilst there have been several releases so far worthy of consideration as amongst the best the year has to offer, none have felt quite so necessary and potentially healing as this one. ‘Dark Blue’ begins with some classic, propulsive Muses strumming, before expanding into a slower, reverb-soaked guitar chug. Hersh’s voice, weathered by time but all the more wonderful for it, intones: “If you were a sore loser/ I’d be a better dreamer/ And if I were a better dreamer you’d be a dream come true”. Like all of Sun Racket’s songs, it attains a transcendent, mantric like force through repetition of multi-tracked vocals and the resonating squall of guitar that it emits cloud-like from the deceptively simple core of its construction.

‘Bywater’ floats beautifully along, stirred gently by ‘la la la’ backing vocals and the surreal but poignant image of a “goldfish in the toilet... shining orange/ unhinged/ a mustached amputee heading out to sea”. ‘Bo Diddley Bridge’ riffs hypnotically along, until it reaches the point where Hersh sings “Only fuck with what doesn’t matter/ and only fuck who does”, and then the reverb dies away to reveal the gorgeous chiming melody underneath. ‘Milk At McDonalds’ drifts like a barely remembered dream or dissipating morning mist. ‘St Charles’ is perhaps the most experimental sounding track on the album, utilising the kind of echoing, junk-yard rhythm more usually found on late period Tom Waits. The longest track at 4.58, ‘Frosting’ exerts an irresistible emotional pull that builds to a satisfyingly clangorous ending. ‘Kay Catherine’ and ‘Sue’s’ bring the album to a close on a drifting, dreamier note, with the lyrics of the latter hitting a concise, poetic high point: “The devil has no soul/ doesn’t love who he fucks/ plays his cards wrong/ down on his luck/ but the boy’s a barometer/ polaroid of god”. These songs have an undeniably reality, they’re right in the room with you, and yet have the power to act like incantations. That Kristin Hersh has the ability to effortlessly cast such powerfully vital sound spells should come as no surprise to those who have followed her career this far. Hopefully this album might also serve to bring word of Throwing Muses inspiring music to a new generation.