[24 December 2002]
I hate this album, and I can’t imagine my life without it. I love this album, and I wish it would go away forever. In the relatively short period of time that I have had it (almost four years), I’ve probably listened to it at least five hundred times. And every single time it does the same thing to me. It destroys me. On some level—physically, intellectually, externally, internally—it destroys me. It does one or some or all of these things to me: It freezes my blood. It makes me think things I know are not good. It makes me go limp. It makes me blank out on everything. It makes me go insane. But what it does most when it destroys me, what it’s best at doing, is making me cry. I’m not talking tiny tears and lightly stifled yelps. I’m talking uncontrollable bawling. I’m talking lying-in-bed-for-hours-staring-at-a-wall-or-the-ceiling-and-sobbing-deeply. This album is a black hole—I can be happily going about a day, only to have a note or a word or a beat from it jumps into my head, and then it’s over. I follow the sound and go to places in the past, present, and future of my life with a combined sense of horror, confusion, and hope, all the while blocking out everything else around me that clamors for attention. This album haunts me. It’s demented, jangling ghost has found a permanent place inside me to nestle, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to exorcise it, nor do I want to. Masochistic, yes, but there’s so much more to it than that. Cause what I get in the end with this album, after I’ve maneuvered my way through the blaring chaos it brings on, is complete and total catharsis. It cleans me out completely, and afterwards, after I’ve pulled myself together, all that’s left inside me is white light. Wide-open spaces. Clarity.
To call this album one-of-a-kind is a giant understatement. In all my years of listening to “alternative” music (that’s about 16 or 17 years, give or take), I have never heard anything that even remotely sounds like it. There have been artists and bands who have learned from it, most of whom never give it credit (that’s a whole other story, though), but none of them have been able to duplicate its strangely delicate coarseness and skittered, innate weirdness. People have used the term “cow-punk” a lot in trying to put some kind of label on its sound, and I guess that can work. It’s overall sound is punk—art-punk, I guess—with country and folk textures and conventions interweaved throughout the majority of its ten tracks. That description is merely hitting the tip of the iceberg, though. When I first listened to it, all notions of genre pigeonholing went out the window. All I heard (and even saw) was a car wreck, the kind that arouses your deepest sense of morbid curiosity. I wasn’t even sure I liked it, actually, but I knew I was fascinated by it. And soon after I became hooked. It is tight and tense while being elastic at the same time. It lurches forward, then sprints out at the speed of light, only to stop and sigh just three seconds later. There are sounds of ringing cowbells, honking automobiles, and snapping fingers. It is dreamy and gravely realistic in equal measures, soaring off in myriad directions on the backs of guitarist Tanya Donelly, bassist Leslie Langston, and drummer Dave Narcizo, yet eternally grounded by the shrieking, unstable wail of singer Kristin Hersh and her puzzling wordplay.
What does the album mean, what is it communicating? That’s all very nebulous. I know I don’t know, nor do I really care. One of the main reasons it’s my favorite is because after listening to it over 500 times, it is still a mystery. Hersh was the mastermind behind the group, employing it as a means of squeezing out of the grip of a demon that may or may not be a mental illness. I’ve never gotten the full story—I’ve heard she’s suffers from schizophrenia, I’ve heard she suffers from bipolar disorder. Her personal life is none of my business, yet at the same time, it’s all of my business, as well as yours. Answers about what go in her head are on this album. We’re just not meant to know what they are. You can try to decipher this album all you want—come at from different angles, chew on one of its many fucked-up sentences for an eternity. But you will come up blank. You will also come up inspired, knocked-out by its stunning display of courage and inventiveness. For all its ugliness—for all the turmoil I’ve gone through because of its existence—all I see in the end when I’m cutting through the white light is beauty. Kristin Hersh puts her life on the line making Throwing Muses, and the resulting rough jewel has caused me to have more creative and emotional epiphanies than any other work of art I’ve ever come in contact with.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/throwingmuses-st/