By: Will Pinfold
50FOOTWAVE | website | facebook | twitter | bandcamp |
Released on May 27, 2016 via HHBTM Records
The EP is a funny format; often hovering uncomfortably between the definitely obsolete “maxi single” and the surprisingly durable album, there was a time when it seemed the most archaic format of all and perhaps the least likely to survive in the digital age. Going further back, there was an often-voiced theory in the pages NME and Melody Maker back in the early 90s, that indie bands ‘sapped their strength’ by releasing a stream of EPs, resulting in somewhat anaemic albums. Despite all that, 50FOOTWAVE demonstrate again that, not only is there life in the format yet, but it can also be the ideal way to release new music.
Kristin Hersh is of course, no stranger to full-length albums, but the whole raison d’etre of 50FOOTWAVE is distinctly different from both Throwing Muses and her solo work and the shorter form of the EP is eminently suited to the band’s explosive, abrasive power trio sound. Bath White exemplifies this approach; there’s a frayed, tense and energised feeling to the six tracks here and not an inch of spare fat; no filler whatsoever; which is not to say that it’s all killer exactly – it’s as challenging and un-comforting as it is exhilarating. The plus side of this is that the songs resist familiarity, retaining their intensity and unpredictable structures with repeated listens. On the other hand, after the extremely catchy intro to opener ‘Bath White’ itself there are few of the pop-friendly hooks that Hersh is so adept at when the mood takes her. In fact, despite their unpredictability, there is a kind of pattern that emerges; the songs tend to launch with a riff or recognisable intro, before exploding/expanding into an almost chaotic, dynamic tumble of words and music; it’s almost the opposite of a formula, but it reveals a true power trio, working almost telepathically together, with each part equally balanced. Well, almost equally; as both guitarist and singer, Kristin Hersh is inevitably the focal point much of the time, and her extraordinary voice is at its best throughout – instantly recognisable, deeply expressive and capable of childlike fragility and abrasive punky fury in the same breath. Her lyrics are a perfect fit for the edgy music too, being powerful and full of what feels like deep significance, but ultimately enigmatic and even opaque, rather than direct or revealing.
An excellent release then, and one that is brilliantly served by a Steve Albini-esque production which gives the music a rich, organic texture without rendering it either skeletally bare or adding any kind of surface gloss; it sounds good. It’s strange to say about a set of songs so angular and in some ways awkward, but Bath White is a perfectly formed piece of work, a testament not just to one of the great singers and songwriters of recent times, but also a band that can play anything it wants, but refuses to take the easy option. Invigorating.