Friday, August 24, 2012

Throwing Muses, "Red Heaven"; The Avalanches, "Since I Left You"

Two minor classics that I've never heard before ...

Why haven't you heard them until now?

"Since I Left You" came out at a time when DJ Shadow and The Beastie Boys were making cut and paste style hip hop that was safe for indie kids to like.  The Avalanches seemed like the natural heirs to the "token hip hop act in the indie rock fan's CD collection" throne, so of course I stayed away from their album completely.

Throwing Muses is a difficult one to explain, because I have a number of Kirsten Hirsh solo albums.  In fact, I won't even try explaining why I've never heard this or any other Throwing Muses album.  It makes no sense at all.

Not that we don't already know, but what do they sound like?

"Red Heaven" is uncannily similar to Hersh's solo album "Learn To Sing Like a Star" (or rather, the opposite is true).  Throwing Muses' drummer David Narcizo played drums on that album, so it's perhaps not much of a surprise.  I assumed her voice had naturally become more throaty and raspier as she got older, but here, her voice even sounds raspier (in 1992) that it would on the solo albums she recorded over the next fifteen years.

"Since I Left You" certainly isn't boring.  Each of its eighteen tracks feel like the amalgamation of two or three mini-tracks, with countless samples and melodies cobbled and bootlegged together.  Tracks are changing shape constantly, and the album's hour long run time just flies by.  Definitely a dream album for the ADD sect.  

Thirty one combined years of hindsight must be nice, but are they classics?

A lot of early 90's alternative rock sounds soft and generic today.  Nirvana and all who hung on to their coattails made their careers on convincing kids who were sick of hearing how softies like Michael Jackson and Prince were the greatest artists ever that music could be better if it sounded aggressive or threatening.  Nobody was about to start a revolution soundtracked by Throwing Muses, Belly, or the Lemonheads.

That's not to say that grunge et. al. have aged better than Throwing Muses.  My mom wouldn't change the station if a Throwing Muses song came on, but that's a testament to how stealthily this kind of "soft" alternative rock eventually seeped into the mainstream via bands like Matchbox 20 in the late 90's.  But that doesn't mean the music still stands out when I'm listening to it for the first time in 2012.  Fortunately, Hersh's solo albums remain endlessly replayable ... give me "Me and My Charms" anyday over anything on "Red Heaven".

It bears repeating that "Since I Left You" is anything but boring.  I like to complain about how 60-minute albums with 15-20 songs are usually the biggest slogs ... better to have a 40-minute album with fewer tracks or a 70-minute album with a bunch of longer tracks, but those albums where the 3-4 minute tracks keep coming and never stop always feel like the biggest endurance tests.  "Since I Left You" is something to be admired more than loved.  I couldn't be more impressed that they managed to assemble a zillion samples into actual songs, but this is more spectacle than substance.

I don't think I'll be taking it off my iPod for a while though.  The music fits/cures a lot of moods and it couldn't be more suited for random play scenarios!

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