The first new Throwing Muses album released since the band split for financial reasons in 1997 offers a harder rocking counterpoint to frontwoman Kristin Hersh’s latest solo album, The Grotto, which was released the same day. Throwing Muses’ final lineup — Hersh on vocals and guitar, David Narcizo on drums and Bernard Georges on bass — is accompanied by Tanya Donelly, who founded the group in 1983 with her step-sister Hersch and offers backing vocals on five tracks on the album. With 20 years and 9 full-lengths on their resume, it seems a five-year hiatus wasn’t enough to quell the creative energies of the band; judging by Throwing Muses, it sounds like the Rhode Island trio has never been apart.
Although Throwing Muses sounds far fuller and more accessible, it evokes the band’s untitled 1986 debut in its jarring transitions, busy bass lines and refusal to obey verse-chorus-verse rules. The sweet, dreamy vocals of Donelly, who played on the earliest Breeders records, left the Muses in 1992 to front Belly and now records as a solo artist, have always been a nice foil for Hersh’s rawer, earthier ones and thus could have been brought out more here. Throwing Muses manages to sound both polished and urgent, with lots of solid hooks and guitar work.
The gentle/heavy contrasts within “Pretty or Not” showcase the band’s ability to navigate extremes. “Speed and Sleep” ends with a very dense guitar sound unlike the one in its beginning, whereas “Civil Disobedience” is bouncy and playful. The finest track here is the album’s closer, “Flying,” which maximizes the Hersh/Donelly vocal interplay.
This record bears the best qualities of Throwing Muses’ body of work — namely, well-mastered sonic volatility and vocal intensity — and would meet the high expectations a longtime fan might hold for a comeback. But it would also be an interesting place for a new fan to start.