When Throwing Muses reunited in 2000 after being on hiatus for three years, it was because Kristin Hersh felt the lack of a viable outlet for her restless rock & roll energy, a force of nature that can't be contained by her more gentle solo material. Hersh thrives on a charmingly disturbed plane, unapologetically shooting her mouth off through thick metaphors about dysfunction, anger and confusion, chemically induced or otherwise. So while the six albums she's recorded on her own have occasionally veered close to something that resembles rock & roll, the fevered frenzy that's part of her natural inclination has had to take a back seat. So much so that even the reconstitution of Throwing Muses hasn't been enough to scratch that itch. Enter her new power trio, 50 Foot Wave.
On their full-length debut, FFW expands upon (without losing) the punk-pop aesthetic they established on their DIY debut EP of last year. Some of the sun-drenched Los Angeles surf-styled hyperactivity that characterized the EP gets overcast with darker imagery, but that's not too surprising, considering Hersh's style. Additionally, there's an increased rhythmic complexity to the new songs, more like Throwing Muses material. But where the Muses are/were only moderately abrasive at times, 50 Foot Wave is relatively speaking the musical equivalent of nails on a chalkboard. Blessed with Muses bassist Bernard Georges and newcomer Rob Ahlers voraciously pounding out Hersh's oddball time signatures, Golden Ocean is an emotionally and musically torrential ordeal.
The roller coaster ride begins straight away with "Long Painting," as Hersh bellows, "I'm sorry to say I was in love/Static played through my middle/Seared my gut," followed by three extended wails of disgust, the likes of which we haven't heard from her in years. And despite their semi-punk exterior, cleverly obscured beneath the distorted pile of rubble are definite pop hooks that sink in with repeated listening.
On "Bone China" they weave in and out of a throttling pogo that slows during the verses, in between which Hersh barks, "Christ, this is not smart!" Then, at the bridge, she creeps up from behind with "Last gasp nymphomania, somehow desexualized/gonna wash that man right out of my head/and soap him into my eyes," the horror-stricken final line of which is spat out nine times. And during a break in the pandemonium of "Pneuma" she repeatedly asks "You know what?" as if coaxing you in closer to whisper a secret, only to open her mouth to twice its size and deliver an ear-splitting "Shut the fuck up!" it's so out of control, it's almost hilarious.
The pace remains even throughout, but only two of the tracks hit the four-minute mark, and so Golden Ocean is over before you know what hit you. What's more, Hersh sounds like she tied her larynx to the back of the van and went for a spin through the L.A. Basin; the resulting abrasive, parched, and husky growl that erupts from her ultra-petite frame is both world-weary and wise. And you can't help but want to hear more of it.