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Wednesday, November 22, 2017 
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50 Foot Wave
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50 Foot Wave
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A note to the children of America: This is not your parents' Throwing Muses. Sure, 50 Foot Wave features Muses leader and founder Kristin Hersh, as well as late-era Muses bassist Bernard Georges. But there is something fundamentally different in the approach of these two bands. Where Throwing Muses made a career out of crafting pensive and emotive art rock, 50 Foot Wave's eponymous debut features a more immediate and visceral sound. Riff-heavy distorted guitar, saturated melodic bass and the machine-gun propulsion of drummer Rob Ahlers merge to form a bombastic cocktail that's likely to leave a burning sensation long after it's consumed.

This "in your ears" approach is only part of the new philosophy Hersh has adopted while putting Throwing Muses on hiatus. In addition to the sonic elements, there are some practical considerations as well. Instead of following the standard music-industry blueprint of releasing one new album every 24 months, 50 Foot Wave will release a shorter set of six songs, like this debut, every six to eight months.

Also part of the plan is a shift in recording philosophy. While many of the Throwing Muses releases were layered in washes of studio tracking, 50 Foot Wave have hired engineer and producer Ethan Allen to keep things simple. Ripping a page from the playbook of fellow New Englanders Frank Black and the Catholics, 50 Foot Wave's debut features limited overdubs and double-tracking in favor of a more spirited and live sound. This release shows clear evidence of the force behind this plan, as the volume and intensity sustained across this debut EP is in the red.

Like any seasoned artist releasing under a new name, Hersh pulls no punches and places the finest song first on the EP. "Bug" is an unpolished gem that showcases her tenacious guitar playing and brings her addictive, rusty vocal pipes into sway with the precision of her new rhythm section. A perfect bridge between the introspection of Hersh's solo records and the Muses melodicism is formed here, as elements of each can be exhumed from "Bug." In the end these are nothing more than strains of the past, found in a new band brimming with confidence and excitement.

"Bug" segues into second track, "Clara Bow," which does nothing to deter the energy of this collection. Hersh named the track after a 1920s screen legend of the same name who moved to the desert with her husband to overcome a bout with mental illness. The track is a stunner. The guitar skronks like a saxophonist on amphetamines, Ahlers pounds the skin off of his drums, Hersh issues a guttural howl, and Georges holds the whole thing together as if he took cool lessons from Miles Davis. This is three minutes and change not to be missed.

Easing off the gas pedal a bit, "Glory Weed" features some much-needed breathing room in the verses and breaks, before the choruses launch off again like a bullet train to Osaka. The song bears some similarity in vocal melody and phrasing to "Los Flamingos" from 2003's eponymous release by Throwing Muses, but that takes nothing away this potent track.

Even though one of the tenets of 50 Foot Wave is an equal songwriting partnership between Hersh, Georges and Ahlers, closing track "Dog Days" is an obvious beast of Hersh's vision. Every trick she's learned over the last two decades is put to use here. Odd time changes, subtly restrained yet broken vocals, off-kilter guitars and enigmatic lyrics are met head-on by a fierce and wild full-band breakdown to close the EP. This roar crafts a lasting positive message on a slate that had been wiped clean with this band's formation.

One of the remarkable things about Kristin Hersh's career is the loyalty her fans feel to each and every incarnation of her music. For many years it was the confessional indie-flavored art rock of Throwing Muses, then it was the stripped-down storytelling of her solo albums. Now Hersh has headed in a new direction by strapping on an electric guitar and turning up the volume. With the release of the debut EP by 50 Foot Wave, it is apparent that nothing has been lost and everything has been gained — with the best yet to come.


by Jason Korenkiewicz




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