Throwing Muses first 'proper' album came out in 1986, when The Smiths were at the height of their powers. But where The Smiths represented the everyday teenage angst familiar to many, Throwing Muses offered a far darker and more frightening account of severe mental distress.
Singer, guitarist and songwriter Kristin Hersh said at the time that the songs weren't really hers, that she was merely the conduit for them, and the album has a sense of something that is barely under control, which could spin off on its own course at any moment. And it is brilliant. Each and every song is so complete, so captivating, that most songwriters would give their right arm to have written just one - here we have a whole album full. They form a dense whirl of cyclical guitar patterns, shifting tempos and fractured vocals; but this is no dirge. The guitar parts can shimmer with a glittering energy, and David Narcizo's unconventional (he started off in marching bands) and superb drumming provides a powerful spring in the Muses step.
Several songs (America, Rabbits Dying) possess a sprightly, almost manic energy, although they can turn in on themselves, with claustrophobia and dark thoughts never far away. Delicate Cutters is extraordinary, a sparse and jagged 'self-harm nightmare'. But the real highlight is Hate My Way, one of the most emotionally loaded, terrifying and gut-wrenchingly sad songs you are ever likely to hear. When Kristin sings "so I sit up late in the morning and ask myself again, how do they kill children? And why do I want to die?" and chokes on the last line, I choke too.
At this remove, 22 years later, listening to this feels somewhat voyeuristic. But like all the best stuff, this is music made by people who felt totally compelled to make it. And she's a lot better these days.
Buy this record. Really. Throwing Muses were one of the most extraordinary guitar bands to ever form, and this was their best work.