Review by Kate Lawrence – BBC6 Music
50 Foot Wave have generated a certain amount of media attention for two reasons – firstly, because of their seemingly tactless name in the wake of the Asian tsunami (an unfortunate coincidence), and secondly because this is the latest project for Kristin Hersh, former Throwing Muses member and solo artist in her own right.
For those who have enjoyed the intense and frankly downright kooky works spanning her 20 year career, the fact that Hersh wanted to rock out and lose it won’t really come entirely as a surprise. But brace yourself – 50 Foot Wave (defined perfectly by Hersh as ‘the ultra Muses’) are infinitely harder hitting and blunter than anything she has produced previously. Also, if you’re keen on Hersh’s usually dulcet tones, you may be somewhat alarmed by the husky, almost straining vocals that she produces here. But, as she points out ‘What could be more fun than turning it up to ’10’ and screaming your head off for an hour every night?’
The trio also comprises Bernard Georges (former Muses bassist) and Rob Ahlers, who was recruited because Hersh wanted a drummer who plays like he’s pushing a drum kit down the stairs, which he ably manages. There’s a massive grunge influence at play here, yet whilst they don’t pander to the previous sophistication of Hersh’s work, her unique command of rhythm is still hugely prevalent – basically, despite her wish to underplay her involvement with the band, you can spot it’s her from a mile off.
To ease your way gently from your favourite Muses albums to Golden Ocean, skip straight to ‘Clara Bow’; with its melodic backing vocals and fiercely catchy chorus, it’s the most reminiscent of previous Hersh recordings. However, a rather filthy bassline adds the 50 Foot Wave stamp to it. “Sally Is A Girl” is guttural, cathartic and about a really humid night; given the track’s sound, it must have been one in Seattle in around 1991. “Long Painting” is relentless but entirely to the point – like the album as a whole. On your first listen, you’ll feel like you’ve been hit by a truck, but you’ll still be disappointed it was over so quickly.
“It’s fantastic stuff– at its best, the innate catchiness of Hersh’s writing gets a shot in the arm from her cavalier vocals and musical caterwauling. One of Hersh’s former labelmates posited that motherhood equaled mental freeze. No doubt said labelmate never envisioned Kristin Hersh, mother of four, entering her 21st year as a professional musician, leading a group that runs laps around most rock bands.” – David Raposa / Pitchfork
50 Foot Wave is the mark of a woman without a shred of complacency. Former Throwing Muses front-woman Kristin Hersh is back after years of solo work and sporadic reunions. This new project finds Hersh, along with Muses bassist Bernard Georges and new drummer Rob Ahlers, cranking up and streamlining. Their self-titled EP debut was a 16 minute blast of punk rock aggression matched with Hersh’s lyrical dexterity and intense vocal approach. Golden Ocean extends the formula to end up with 11 songs in 35 minutes. Always a master of idiosyncratic connections, Hersh combines disparate elements into cohesive songs, giving the listener a new view of the world–or at least insight into hers. “Long Painting,” “Dog Days,” “Ginger Park,” and “Clara Bow” are all good examples of her fury born of experience. In fact, nearly all the songs here deal with the life-learned oxymoron of, “the more you know, the less you know”. Both angry and affirming, this release shows a band gaining strength with each offering. — Robert Arambel