By: Eric G.
Kristin Hersh’s solo albums in the past have been haunting yet subtle displays of bare bones emotions and manic terror, all three of which were acoustic. Sky Motel marks the fist time Hersh has played with a full band since the final Throwing Muses album, 1996’s severely underrated Limbo. Since starting the Throwing Muses back in the mid-eighties, Hersh has been demonized by her inner muse, which would wake her at all hours and force her to write. This method of songwriting fueled her prolific yet mentally turbulent career until just last year. The demonizing muse was no longer haunting her at night. No more songs fighting to get out. She instead released an album of traditional folk tunes called Murder, Misery and Then Goodnight that she had learned as a child and wanted to pass on to her own children. With a new found piece of mind the wellspring from which she drew her most inspiring, albeit tortured, material was dry. Kristin Hersh no longer had to write songs to keep her sanity. Sky Motel is her first deliberate album ever.
The opening track and first single, “Echo”, is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. It starts out with a loungy, almost Caribbean flavor and then bursts into full-blown rock with Hersh’s distinct moan, which can send shivers down your spine with the simplest of cadences. Her lyrics are artful but honest: “I never asked for my heart back/ I’m loving everybody and hating everyone I see/do you still remember me?” The production is crisp and clean with every squeak of the strings and finger slide perfectly audible. Hersh has always couched dark thoughts in catchy, however, quirky pop songs, and her proclivity for such deceiving packages still reigns supreme. Hersh sings “I’m so unsettled I’m superstitious/your so rattled your suspicious” in “Costa Rica” while a call and response guitar track trades acoustic and affected riffs. The song morphs schizophrenically, and recalls early Throwing Muses days but with a surprisingly uplifting twist.
Sky Motel is easier to digest now that we don’t have to listen at the artist’s expense. Listening to her earlier work is like not being able to avert your eyes from a train wreck. All of the emotions are deliberate and controlled now. Hersh is one of those rare performers that can still be affecting without suffering for it. Take the new Sebadoh for an example of how this can backfire. Lou Barlow finally got the girl and the new songs are lame. All those years of suffering paid off for his art, but now he’s got nothing to say. Not so for Hersh. She’s in control for the first time, and it still hits just as deeply.