Tuesday, December 06, 2005

50 Foot Wave/Golden Ocean/7.3

there's no denying that it is ridiculously loud-- squealing and slamming all over the place.

I have a friend who’s a cop – a detective to be specific. When he’s not solving property crimes, he digs around on the Internet for music, often surprising me with what he finds. A little over a year ago, he told me that Kristin Hersh had a new band. They had only released a six song ep with half of the tracks available for free on Epitonic. I downloaded the free tracks. Awestruck, I bought the EP – even though I had half of it for free already.

Since then, I’ve repeated the same conversation whenever I play 50 Foot Wave’s debut lp Golden Ocean for people-

“Yeah, 50 Foot Wave is Kristin Hersh’s new band.”.

“Really? I’ve never heard of it.

With every new band rolling through Brooklyn getting blogged, this record seems to have stayed below the radar of buzz. Blog coverage has discussed how unfortunate their name was; promo copies of Golden Ocean came out just before the south-east asian Tsunami. Critical buzz has been generally positive, but I’ve only read two reviews - Popmatters and Blogcritics – that “get it”. Most critics are stymied – 50 Foot Wave sounds little like the Throwing Muses and nothing like Hersh’s solo records. However, even the more lukewarm reviews offer what sounds like high praise to me –

it's about as restrained as early Husker Du [Alternative Press]

you can feel bludgeoned by the band's blunt force. [Uncut]

50 Foot Wave is the sound of three people roaring. Hersh plays her guitar with ample overdrive and sings the same way. Throwing Muses bass player Bernard Georges rolls and fills in the rhythm. However, the main culprit behind the surge of energy is drummer Rob Ahlers. Ahler’s drumming is forceful and direct – no mustard, no relish, no bun – all meat. They conjure up some of my favorite power trios with their playing – Husker Du, Dinosaur Jr, Nirvana – while still sounding potent and original.

It could be some people cannot get over Kristin Hersh’s voice. I recently listened to the Throwing Muses’ debut alongside Golden Ocean. Kristin Hersh’s voice has weathered unkindly over the last 20 years. She now has two singing voices – a hoarse whisper and a roar. Her voice on Golden Ocean is solely that roar. The poet Frederico Lorca used a Spanish word to describe a Flamenco singer who sang without art or technique , just pure emotion –Duende. Literally, Duende means a devil or spirit. However, Lorca used it to describe some other dark force that comes forward in great art.

Duende is not in the throat; duende surges up from the soles of the feet.

Hersh’s voice on this album isn’t subtle or pretty. However, it feels like it comes from some place deep in the earth; she simply channels that force with the remainder of her vocal cords. There is undeniably Duende within her singing.

I admit that I am unable to listen to this record with any level of detachment. Perhaps I’m in awe of this record because I can remember spinning the Throwing Muses debut on a college radio station the year that it came out. Perhaps, I’m in awe of any artist who finds a way to reinvent herself after playing music for more than two decades. Perhaps, in this year of new bands that sound like a thriftshop of musical styles, I hunger for an elementary rock record with loud guitars and drums. Nonetheless, this is a record I find myself telling people about constantly.

You don't have to take my word for it; just listen for yourself.