Often, when a group that’s been around since the eighties releases a new album, the assumption is that it’ll be a rehashed sound that lacks the relevance it once had. However, Throwing Muses’ tenth release, Sun Racket, begs to differ. The band’s thirty years of experience shines through these rough, distorted tracks to produce an album that is a more than successful balance of chaotic and structured, and that even sounds young. Throwing Muses balances familiarity with innovation so palatably that old fans will be both contented and refreshed.
Their previous album, Purgatory Paradise (2013), was a cleanly produced experiment in songwriting, with most of the songs making it just past the two-minute mark. The writing in Sun Racket is equally original. Lead-woman Kristin Hersh prefers to structure songs around melodic and chordal patterns without repetition, as opposed to a more traditional structure based around verses and choruses. In terms of the production, however, the album is anything but clean. Buried within a slew of reverbs, delays, choruses, and distortions, the sound of the guitars, drums and keys are at times difficult to recognize beneath their pulsing echoes. Abstracting instrumentation to this extent runs the risk of turning a song into an overworked, solipsistic mess. Fortunately, Sun Racket’s is a composed mess that never seems out of place or unintentional, but entirely appropriate to the album’s thematic effort.
Thematically, the release is rife with references to bodies of water in which figures are submerged, an extended metaphor for situations or relationships in which a person is powerless, and dreaming. The opening tune, “Dark Blue,” initially released as a single earlier in 2020, brings us down with the lyrics “if I were under you, I’d be underwater, and lighting matches underwater I found you.” This is followed by the repeated chant: “coming down.” Water is suggested again in “Bo Diddley Bridge”, in which we find “the bridge collapsing, the water winning.” Beneath the dark narratives, the guitars and rhythms move as if through water, looking up at Hersh’s quivering, shiver of a voice as it cuts through the mix like the sun’s rays through waves. The listener is invited to inhabit currents of sound that are engrossing and
Like the songs, Hersh’s lyrics are a fever dream of fragments and unfinished stories that advance with the same obscurity as do emotions. This would be frustrating if the album didn’t make sense internal to itself. Throwing Muses allows their music to behave instinctively, as Hersh confirmed in a statement on Sun Racket: “[the album] knew what it was doing and pushed us aside, which is always best…we trust each other implicitly but we trust the music more.” These tracks live a life of their own.