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50 Foot Wave

Kristin Hersh has always been an unpredictable sort; it's part of her allure. So if assumptions translated into reality, you might reasonably expect Hersh, queen of '80s college rock and its bastardized '90s "alternative" stepchild with her band Throwing Muses, to rest comfortably on her laurels now that she's in her late 30s and the mother of four, perhaps making music you'd describe with adjectives like "delicate" or "introspective." After all that's what so many women -- and men -- of her ilk do as their youth begins to recede behind them and they contemplate the rest of their lives, and indeed, Hersh has recorded a number of accomplished and criminally underlooked albums of that variety under her own name, from 1994's Hips and Makers through 2003's The Grotto. But you'd be entirely mistaken in that assumption. Instead, Hersh's latest band, 50 Foot Wave, offers an entirely different side of her creative process and musical identity.

She founded the band as a sort of high-volume, no-bullshit endeavor, bringing along longtime Muses bassist Bernard Georges and adding drummer Don Ahlers with the intention of touring constantly (100 gigs a year) and releasing numerous short EPs (one every nine months). In marked contrast to her acoustic solo work (her "day job," she calls it), the first 50 Foot Wave EP is harder and more forceful than anything she's every done before. Certainly anyone familiar with the Muses work knows that her emotional intensity can sometimes be eerie, even unnerving; the difference here is the music's compact, no-frills muscularity. This is a punk band, Hersh-style. Her unique brand of swirling, filamented guitar work has mostly given way to big chunky riffing, complementing Georges' ominous low-end rumble and Ahlers' full-throttle, go-for-the-throat drum bursts. Hersh's voice, wiry and wise, always one of the most distinctive features of her work, keeps the burly arrangements from flying by too quickly, gaining traction with that familiar throaty intensity and cryptic fever dream imagery.

With all the personal demons and professional setbacks Hersh has endured, it's a joy to see her in total control of her game here. Go see her play if you have a chance; her locked-in, unblinking performances are always mesmerizing.