Kristin Hersh’s Renaissance

imageKristin Hersh has been having a personal Renaissance of sorts in the last few years. As a result, I’ve had more of Kristin’s music in heavy rotation recently than at any time since the mid-90s.

First up: Power+Light. This 50 Foot Wave release — is it a song? An EP? I don’t know what to call it. It’s a single 25-minute long track that’s divided into a half-dozen distinct but integrally blended movements. Some of these movements rock as hard as anything 50 Foot Wave has ever done; others, like Skeleton Key, are beautiful, sublime, loaded with powerful and emotive cello‚Ķ actually redefining what a 50 Foot Wave track can sound like.

Power+Light has been around for a couple of years — it was first released in 2009, I believe — but since it was initially only available on vinyl, I was out of the loop until I could download it digitally. And what I found was that it represents the leading edge of a newfound spurt of energy and creativity. It’s so addictive that it’s spinning around my head even as I write this, and I’ve now been listening to it for months.

I’m also playing Crooked to death. Kristin’s latest solo album, this is without a doubt the best album she has released in a decade. I simply cannot stop playing the record. Every track is a masterpiece.

imageThe only thing is, this time, Kristin has pulled back the curtain to let us see (ever so slightly) what’s behind her inscrutable lyrics. Crooked, you see, is also available in book form, packed with lyrics and essays. The best way to experience the book is as an iPad (or iPhone) app. On the iPad, Crooked [iTunes link] is stunningly beautiful. Interspersed with gorgeous macro photography of flowers and an essay penned by Kristin for each song, the Crooked app also features commentary for each song, in which Kristin and husband Billy chat about the music. You might think, "Finally, I’ll learn what each song is about," but you won’t, really — and to hope that you will is almost beside the point. It’s like the time Kristin said to me (after playing her lovely house concert in my living room a few years ago) "Did I ever tell you what Pearl was about?" I said no, and she told me an interesting story — but in the end, it didn’t really shed any actual light on Pearl for me in the conventional way. But you can’t help but be mesmerized by Kristin and Billy’s banter as they reach around and through Kristin’s creative process to try to make the intangible… at least a little more accessible.

Let me put it another way: If you’re a Kristin Hersh fan, you absolutely should own the Crooked book. If you don’t have an iPad or iPhone, you can get the physical book and download the commentary tracks to your PC.

And that’s not all. I’ve also been listening to Kristin’s various projects in which she’s revisited older material. Throwing Muses has recorded the songs mentioned in Kristin’s autobiography, Rat Girl, as four season-themed collections: Fall, Winter, Spring, and Summer. The first two (Fall and Winter) are already available for download (if you purchased a copy of Rat Girl), and they are wonderful. I listen to the Muses’ reinterpretation of Flying over and over and over. My family must hate me. This collection perfectly complements Kristin’s recent 5-volume 10-4 sessions, acoustic covers of dozens of songs from across the depth of her career.

That’s a lot of music. From some artists, it might all add up to oversaturation. In Kristin’s case, though, it just makes you say, "perhaps I should download the Speedbath demos while I wait for the new Throwing Muses album."

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