A dream-like and at times nightmarish ride, Kristin Hersh’s new album is an extraordinarily multi-layered work that’s tough to de-code.
It’s a wilfully oblique mosaic of half-realised memories of past events and emotions.
Five years in the making, it’s a solo effort in every sense, with Hersh not only writing the songs, but playing all the instruments and supplying the eerie field recordings that give the album its cinematic feel.
Hersh’s autistic son, Wyatt says it sounds like “big budget home movies” and he’s not wrong, you can almost picture the flickering cine film as the succession of vivid vignettes on this 24-track opus glide by
Wyatt’s fascination with an abandoned building taken over by coyotes inspired the title of the album, but it’s not essentially about him.
Instead it’s a series of sketches, scattered snapshots and images of often bizarre experiences encountered by Hersh and her family.
Like her two previous solo recordings Wyatt…. comes with an accompanying book, illustrated by Hersh’s own photographs and designed by Throwing Muses bandmate and longtime friend David Narcizo.
Hersh says the addition of a book makes her albums seem like more of a gift and, in these days of streaming and downloads, it’s certainly a heartening touch.
The book fleshes out some of the lyrics – how else would we know that “Big Red,” her band’s tour bus, is driven by a guy named Wolverine? – but it doesn’t give too much away.
Written in a witty conversational style it recounts a series of near-death experiences and hair-raising escapes.
There are bus and car accidents, giant home invaders and even a Spinal Tap-style episode where Hersh is thrown off her feet by the shock from a faulty amp jack.
These ‘rehearsals’ for death weave around the lyrics of the songs in the book, but the relationship is complex, never clearly defined or explained.
The lyrics are typically confessional, but seldom straightforward and shot through with references to water, falling and the changing seasons.
Intoxication in all its forms is another abiding theme – most explicitly on Detox and the scattered syringes of Bubble Net, but more subtly and metaphorically elsewhere.
There’s also world-weariness and sense of disappointment and loss running through the album.
”Don’t know where to go from here/ don’t know where to go to disappear”, she sings on In Stitches, while the driving Wonderland warns “You’re losing her, losing, you’re lost”.
“I’m so fucking tired of dissolution,” she rasps on the acoustic punk of Sun Blown then later, “I’ve got nowhere to go.“
Many songs speak of trouble, degradation and shame – “We don’t like the shit between piety and desire/No we don’t like the shit ’cause we belong it,” she spits on the stunning Between Piety and Desire.
But it’s not a depressing or over-wrought record, it’s spiky, unpredictable and that goes for the music too.
Hersh is constantly tossing in little surprises, musical jolts, which act like film jump cuts, forcing you to sit up and pay attention.
Sinewy, fluid acoustic arpeggios are juxtaposed with squalls of distortion, while slippery bass lines meld into choppy punk guitar.
There are gentle strings and piano, occasional tub-thumping drums and mournful cello.
Less immediate than her album with 50FOOTWAVE earlier this year, it’s never less than compelling, it’s complexity inviting repeated listens.
In her recent EP interview Hersh described her solo work as “thick and woody” and you can see what she means on this record. Its depth entangles, dense branches, shades of meaning, folding in around you.
Hersh paints beautiful word pictures, but she doesn’t always make it easy for you.
“To God and man you only know secret codes. You don’t need my help at all,” she sings on the appropriately-named Secret Codes.
It’s not an easy album to work out and if I’ve got it wrong i can only apologise, but as I sit tapping this out at 3am – a sick cat wheezing gently on my lap – it strikes me that this is the perfect mood for this record.
It’s an album that inhabits the twilight between wakefulness and sleep, drunkenness and sobriety, fever and concentration.
Hersh consistently operates in spaces where others fear to tread and that’s why no-one else ever sounds quite like her.
- Wyatt at the Coyote Palace is released in the UK on October 28 and in the US on November 11. Pre-order available here.
- Kristin tours The UK and Ireland in November, before returning to the US for more shows. More information from her website.