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Kristin Hersh

Throwing Muses singer Kristin Hersh has been a notable figure on the college rock circuit, thanks to her jagged, intensely mercurial songwriting style, her eerie, unblinking live performances, and her reported struggles with bipolar disorder. Hersh founded the Muses in 1980 with her stepsister Tanya Donnelly (who left in '92 to play in The Breeders and Belly) when both were only 14. Within a few years the group developed a distinctive swirling guitar-driven sound and dark, haunted fairytale vision, which made it one of the most influential indie rock bands of the '80s and '90s. Unfortunately for us, Hersh broke up the band in 1997, asserting that it was no longer economically viable for Throwing Muses to continue touring and recording.

Fortunately for us, however, Hersh has continued her career as a solo artist. Actually, she began moving in this direction in 1994 with the release of her first solo record, the brilliantly stark, minimal, all-acoustic Hips and Makers. The brittle folkiness of that album, recorded while the Muses were on extended hiatus, surprised many of Hersh's hardcore fans used to the amplified anguish of her rock band, but close listening showed it to be vintage Hersh: full of lunatic poetry and luminous imagery, the record provided a document of the ongoing struggle between Hersh's inner demons and her indomitable will, which had only been alluded to on Throwing Muses' various releases. Hips and Makers also showcased Hersh's remarkable voice, always a major part of Throwing Muses intrigue, a sandpapery, well-worn but powerful tool for complex expressions of anguish.

After Hips and Makers and its sister disc, the wonderful Strings EP, which featured alternate versions of a number of Hips and Makers tracks recorded with a string quartet, Hersh returned to Throwing Muses for two last albums. Then in 1997, after disbanding the group, she released her second solo effort, Strange Angels, a pared-down, personal, acoustic record much like Hips and Makers, featuring 15 new Hersh originals. Shortly thereafter, she released the 4AD mail-order-only album, Murder, Misery, and Then Goodnight, an album of Appalachian gothic folksongs her father used to sing her before bed, which featured her six-year-old son Ryder playing some piano and harmonizing with his mom.

In 1999, Hersh released her third solo album of original material, Sky Motel, which saw her move back towards the haunted rock of Throwing Muses without dispensing with the stark acoustics of her previous solo releases, arriving at a uniquely idiosyncratic style of electric pop that's both playful and somber. On her most recent album, 2001's Sunny Border Blue, she further develops this approach, crafting weird, intelligent little pop chimeras distinguished by her unerring songwriting skills and her inclination towards the psychologically harrowing. As always, her scratchy, agile voice adds to the fascination of her material.

"Echo" comes from Sky Motel; "Your Dirty Answer" comes from Sunny Border Blue.