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50 Foot Wave – Golden Ocean

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There’s been a lot of gum-flappin’ around these parts (and prolly where you are, too) about how “quiet is the new loud.” Those doing the flappin’ are generally either the followers of earnest young guys with screwed-down hair, Keane-painting eyes and (whaddaya know!) acoustic guitars, or the earnest young guys themselves.

Not that there’s anything, y’know, wrong with that. It’s just that they’re mistaken.

Exhibit A: Kristin Hersh has a (relatively) new band called 50 Foot Wave. They are… (wait for it)… LOUD. Yup, she of the haunted solo acoustic throwdown has plugged back in, with a vengeance.

If Throwing Muses have been your only exposure to Kristin Hersh, 50 Foot Wave is going to be a bit of a departure. For those of you know her from such solo albums as Hips and Makers and Sunny Border Blue… well, y’all are in for a mighty big surprise. Before you start this one up, you’ll want to strap yourself in good and tight.

Golden Ocean comes roaring out of the box hard and fast, and could easily pin you against the back wall if you’re not ready for them. It’s loud and fierce and just amazingly… well, heavy is really only word for it. (That term is gonna date me, but hell, we burnt that bridge a long time ago.) Put Hersh & Co. up against any of the current crop of scowling, Cookie-Monster-hollering, riff-deficient metal mongers and 50 Foot Wave will bury those dudes like your kitty buries her turds. No contest.

What makes it so?

Well, Ms. Hersh slathers a whole buncha crunchy guitar hither and yon, which vacillates between punky ramalama and metallic aggression. She even drags out the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Wah-Wah Pedal a couple of times, most effectively on the doomy “Petal”. Piling onto The Big Noise is the ferocious rhythm section. You’re familiar with the concept of the guitar hero, right? I’d like to take this opportunity to claim Bernard Georges as my personal bass hero.

Busy basslines are his speciality, and at times he takes the lead and Hersh plays rhythm. As for Rob Ahlers’ drumming – he maneuvers through the hairpin breakneck time changes Hersh throws at him with (apparent) ease, throwing in some nice fills while he’s at it. In a word, these guys are tight. I’ve seen them live, I’ve heard the studio recordings, and I’m here to tell you that they are undeniably in sync. Stop and start on a dime.

I’d use the phrase “well-oiled machine” except it’s been worn out from years of overwork, and besides, there’s too much of the human involved here to invoke machinery. Hersh wears her heart on her blood-soaked sleeve.

Saying that her music comes from a dark place is kinda like saying that there was a Tuesday last week.

That’s been the case going all the way back to the very first Throwing Muses album. She tends to write in an impressionistic, evocative manner, so if you’re looking for straight narrative you’ll have to look elsewhere. If you want to know precisely what she’s singing/ yelping/ screaming, may I recommend the lyrics page at the Throwing Music Web site?

I spent about a week thinking that the last line of “Bone China” went “Last chance nymphomania / somehow desexualized / I’m gonna wash that man right out of my hair / and shove him in through my eyes”, when it is actually “soap him into my eyes”. And, while I maintain that my version is better (Kristin, if you’re reading, feel free to use it), it’s still a good line. Other faves include “don’t touch me / I don’t know where you’ve been” from “Dog Days”, and, from the theme song for those of use afflicted with Reverse Seasonal Affective Disorder, “Clara Bow”: “Yes, alright, I can / with sunburned lips, I can bitch / about another stupid summer.”

At last, someone understands!

Hersh’s vocals have been described as being the scariest in rock & roll. Well, scary is relative. Diamonda Galas would give her a run for the money, but otherwise it’s a fairly accurate assessment. She veers from “slightly stressed girl-next-door” to “girl-next-door possessed by unspeakable demons” at the drop of a hat. I wonder if she uses the Scary Voice when disciplining her children. You wouldn’t be able to do it all the time, but judicious use would be incredibly effective. Either that or it would scar the little guys for life.

Standout cuts? For my money – “Bone China” (a somewhat distressed internal monologue), “ Petal” (memories of teenage hormonal hijinx gone awry), “Sally Is A Girl” (no clue what it’s about, really, but there’s a nice post-Nirvana pushme-pullyou loud/soft tension to it), and the three holdovers from the EP… sorry, “mini-album” they released last year, “Long Painting”, “Clara Bow”, and “Dog Days”. Which is not to slight the other songs, but you asked. (Don’t worry, Mummy loves you all the same.)

My friends, do not be fooled by cheap imitations – loud is and will continue to be “loud” for the foreseeable future. Quiet, on the other hand, is the new “boring”.

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About bmarkey

  • bmarkey,

    Hersh – wow she needs a revival.

    This sounds great.


    I promoted this review to Advance.net. That means I put it here (and these places) where it could potentially be read by another few hundred thousand readers.

    – Thank you for the post. Temple Stark

    (And is it fairly freaky that I accidentally pinged this post a few days ago? I think it’s a glitch, but ….

  • Thanks, Temple.

    Hey, did you by any chance adjust some of the paragraphs? I tend to throw in some goofy graf breaks, but these are not the ones I put in originally. Or maybe it’s the ghost in the machine that pinged me earlier…