Album of the Day: Kristin Hersh, “Crooked”

Kristin Hersh’s solo music has a raw, desolate tone that’s distinct from her work with her bands, alt-rock icons Throwing Muses or the pummeling 50 Foot Wave. Her conspiratorial voice sounds more exposed, her emotions heightened and shivering on the surface, her arrangements stripped down to their barest essentials. Crooked is no exception: Initially released in 2009 as accompaniment to an elaborate book with writing and photos, the full-length exudes a wintry chill, largely due to Hersh’s sandpaper-textured vocal tone and arrangements that convey isolation and weariness.

“Flooding” is stark, with mournful cello and plucked acoustic guitar arranged so each strum echoes like ponderous footsteps, while trudging rhythms and biting riffs on “Sand” convey someone on a long, tiring journey. On other songs, however, Hersh—who plays every instrument on the album—uses snaky, bruising electric guitar accents for effect. Sinewy riffs go haywire on “Sand,” like bubbled paint that flake off a wall, while her circuitous melodies on “Rubidoux” are hypnotizing.

This 10th anniversary reissue also illustrates the literary bent of Hersh’s lyrics, which often lean on surrealistic imagery to describe painful situations. “Flooding,” a song she has said inadvertently foreshadowed the 2009 suicide of close friend Vic Chesnutt, contains the vivid line, “Like melting you shrugged off the clothes of your life.” “Mississippi Kite” describes a tempestuous relationship through the lens of conflicted nurturing: “I feed you boric acid and air / Lemon drops, snow cream, speckled eggs.”

On other songs, however, Hersh uses simple, well-placed words to convey deep meaning. As “Moan” ends, a flurry of distortion gives way to a frazzled waltz as she foggily sings, “I’m jumping out of my skin.” The very next line stresses that this isn’t the first time that’s happened: “I’m jumping out of my skin again.” Crooked is a primal and piercing album that captures the discomfort of emotional and physical disconnection.

Annie Zaleski

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