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the pathetic caverns - music by artist - Throwing Muses

eclectic reviews and opinions

Throwing Muses

15 Aug 1996

Go! Discs (Arlington, VA)

So I just randomly walked into Go! -- I keep hoping they'll get the new Fall record in, though they haven't yet -- and a whole bunch of people were standing around, and it turned out that the Throwing Muses were just about to do a free in-store before their 9:30 club appearance later that night. Sometimes, life don't suck so bad, y'know?

They ran through five numbers from the new album, Limbo in a semi-plugged fashion (which means, in this case, that both Kristin Hersh and Bernard Georges were playing through amps, but with clean signals, while David Narcizo was whapping an unamplified snare drum.)

"It's okay that you don't know these songs," Hersh quipped at one point, "cause we don't know them either."

The stripped-down approach highlighted the skewed but definite sense of structure that makes so many Throwing Muses songs interesting, and the quiet approach made it easier to hear Hersh's words. Narcizo was particularly impressive, pretty succesfully creating the rhythmic feel of the album on one lonely snare (though his feet kept going where the kick drum and hi-hat usually are!). Bottom line: If the Muses ever put out one of those goofy unplugged records, I'm there.

Throwing Muses

Limbo

Ruthie's Knocking

(Rykodisc, 1996)

I'll never forget the first time I heard the Throwing Muses -- it must have been '86 or '87, their first record had just come out, and it was played while I was browsing in the College Park record Co-op, sadly gone now, but for many years one of my absolute most favorite record stores. I guess it was "Hate My Way" that got me -- Kristin Hersh lets out this tormented, octave-leaping howl in it, (like an evil Kate Bush, I thought at the time) that literally sent shivers down my spine. I bought the record about thirty seconds later.

Ten years or so later, Throwing Muses are still making slightly unsettling, strangely compelling records, although may not be quite as arresting as they were back then.

These days most of the sonic strangeness comes from the way the songs are structured, with unexpected little middle eights, tempo shifts and key changes keeping things lively, although some tracks, like the moody, cello- and piano-accented "Night Driving" approach an almost convential prettiness. But Kristin's voice has an urgency that prevents even the mellowest of the tunes from being snoozers. This probably isn't the best Throwing Muses album of all time, but it's a worthy addition to the collection, with a number of strong songs. I'm especially fond of the gentle "Serene" which asks:

Why do I like you? 'Cause I do
Why do I like you? 'Cause I'd kill to be you
Sweet nothing, sweet dreams, serene

and "Tar Kissers," which boasts a bunch of my favorite lyrics, like:

Kissing you's like kissing gravel
It feels like getting drunk
Kissing you's like sinking down into the mud
You look better upside down
You look better lying down

The British single, "Shark" is pretty keen too -- the American pick "Ruthie's Knocking" is much less typical, with a rather generic alterna-rock sound.

The EP has alternate versions of three of the tracks from the album, including "Tar Moochers" a mostly acoustic rendering of "Tar Kissers" close to how they did it at the in-store performance I saw, only with electric guitar solos. It's an arrangement I prefer to the much growlier album version, and pretty well worth the price of admission in my opinion.

Alternative comic fans take note! Illustrations for both the album and the singles are drawn by Love and Rockets guy Gilbert Hernandez.

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