How NOT to write about music – 26. Kristin Hersh

Kristin

I want to write about the new Kristin Hersh album Possible Dust Clouds but I am not sure my words are equal to it. Hers are:

“Sometimes the most subversive thing I can do musically is adhere to standard song structure, sometimes the creepiest chords are the ones we’ve heard before, twisted into different shapes, and sometimes a story is lived a thousand times before we can ride it like a roller coaster. Nothing wholly unfamiliar is gonna make you look twice. When you can describe a record as being ‘deceptively’ anything, you’re hinting at the sociopathic nature of music. Something I love. Imagine truly buying your own sunshine and charm, but also your darkness and violence; the two sides of your psychology showing each other off in relief. Songs can do that…we can’t, really. Darkness we’ve seen. Dark sunshine? Still cool.”

I want to write about the new Kristin Hersh album Possible Dust Clouds but it’s late at night, I have two children sleeping upstairs, the washing has reached its final cycle and soon-come sleep is painting a mist across my eyes. If I was on my sofa I’d be fighting off unconsciousness by now – and unsuccessfully.

I want to write about Kristin’s new album but the music keeps intruding, in a way music rarely – if ever – does when I am attempting to write about it. Full immersion. The way the music and guitar lollops and loops and curves, and throws off sunshine and charm (NB: stolen from press release), the way her voice sounds wise beyond understanding, the way a pink birthing ball is resting over there by the torn-out fireplace, the shallowness of my breathing, the tears splattered across my car’s windscreen… I find myself unequal to the task. She’s not:

“I usually play all the instruments on my solo records – essentially the sound of having no friends – but sociopaths can’t realize their potential without people to work out their grievances on and this record is a freakin’ sociopath. So I invited my friends to the party I wanted to hear. Not a live record but an alive record.”

I think the reason I do not listen to Kristin Hersh as often as I might (and file her away under “to be admired” rather than “to be loved”) is that her music, not needlessly and certainly not callously, reminds me so poignantly of my own shortcomings, the same way this is one of the greatest lyrics I have ever encountered

My diplomacy, my security, my hope and my ice-cream
My tomorrow and my temperature, my lips and my selfishness
My cigarette, my uncertainty, my penetration
My notebook and my limit, my importance and my glycerine
My customer, my function, my lawlessness, my charm
My hunger, my refusal, my tissue and my vodka
My ommission, my ability, my telephone and my holler
My relaxing, my distress, my bedroom, my cassette
My dictation and my pulse, my fortune and my death
My flake and my restlessness, my headache and my dirt
My paper and my charity, my rose and my pallor
My guess and my closet, my light ‘n’ my time
My worry, my perversity, my transgression
My temptation and my polythene, my gunshot
My jealousy and my water
My demands ‘n’ my angels ‘n’ my waiting ‘n’ my distance
My death, my curtness, my insulin, my memory
My partner ‘n’ my sadness, my story, my wantonness
My wish, my despair, my erasure, my plantation
My white chocolate, my thoughtlessness, my gracelessness
My courage and my crying, my pockets ‘n’ my mistakes
My body and my sex, my gaze and my helplessness
My letter, my sugar, my homework, my walk
My records, my smile and my struggle
My reflection, my eyelid, my fragility, my discretion
My hair, my austerity, my tattoo, my demise
My fooling and my terror, My problem and my judgement
Oh my disguise, my tongue
My ownership, my formula, my property, my thought, my razor
My blessing and my silence, my lust and my practise
My sincerity, my penicillin, my window and my androgyny
My mother, my recorder, my pity and my posing
My light, my carelessness, my drummer, my drummer, my drummer, my drummer
My tenderness ‘n’ my car, my undoing and my history
My bottle and my drugs, my drugs, my drugs
Tomorrow, my temperature, my lips and my selfishness
My cigarette, my uncertainty, my penetration, my notebook

And so forth.

This new album – her 10th studio album, it says here – is so full. So fucking full I cannot begin to muster the energy required to equal it with words (thereby failing RULE NUMBER ONE OF MUSIC JOURNALISM: always be more entertaining than the music you write about). Everything claimed for her former 4AD soulmates The Breeders, obv – but without the cosy familiarity that helps so often when confronted with casual genius, the intimate stranger. Brooding. Broody. Squalling. Squalled. Mysterious like Lyra Belacqua. I am just pleased that I am not the only one unable to measure up here.

Exhibit number one: the press release

Feedback and phasing gyrate from simply strummed normality, imagine Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine cranking up a Dylan couplet.

I love the simply strummed normality bit, but… you what? So much wrong contained within these final dozen words: devaluing the very artist they set out to praise by throwing in random selected assortments from indie rock’s rich canon (a canon that should NEVER be taken for granted, ALWAYS be questioned). Why not throw in Joy Division, Nirvana and The Beatles and be done with it? It’s a bit like saying Joni Mitchell is almost as good as Bob Dylan, with implicit gender preference thrown in. Kristin Hersh is an artist in her own right, easily the equal if not superior (if we MUST turn music into a competition) to the aforementioned… the comparisons are the wrong way around. She’s not Courtney Barnett, you know.

Hell, though. I understand the PR’s problem though. How to put Kristin into words that she hasn’t written herself? Let the lady speak:

“Because a lot of live records don’t sound live, just poorly recorded. And self-conscious musicians can’t let fly. I wanted to recreate the impact of a show. Unpretentious, with a muscular song body running through the room. This entailed seriously messing with both extremes of the sonic spectrum: the fundamentals (basics, rhythm section, roots) but also with the detail (percussion, high end, effects). These two strata asked to sound eccentric: atonal and arrhythmic. So when the song body runs through the room, it’s not wholly unfamiliar, just dressed oddly enough to make you look twice. Dark sunshine, still cool. Hopefully, anyway.”

She reminds me most of… ha. You ain’t gonna catch me like that. Let the lady speak:

“My friends helped me make a nice party noise, a goofy sociopath. Everyone who stopped by the studio was asked to make some noise and they pretty much did. A party that lasted for a few years, it’s only now dying down. A friend called this morning asking when the bus was leaving. A rickety, squealy, squeaky bus…none of us want to miss it.”

Peerless.

She still sounds better because she leaves much to your own imagination.

2 thoughts on “How NOT to write about music – 26. Kristin Hersh

  1. Pingback: 10 Most Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music | How NOT to write about music

  2. Pingback: 10 Most Read Entries on How NOT To Write About Music (June 2019) | How NOT to write about music

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