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Firepile - EP

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Album Review

The first proper Throwing Muses' releases since the departure of guitarist and singer Tanya Donelly, the two-part "Firepile" singles have become highly sought after collectors items for fans of the band. The first single from the 1992 Red Heaven LP is a rhythmically off-kilter, almost blues-flavored ditty that is as catchy as it is jaunty. Unfortunately, the song fared no better on modern rock radio than previous Muses singles, and eventually faded into the collective unconscious of the listening public; however, the singles did succeed in exemplifying a new sound for the band that would define their final two albums. With no permanent replacement for bass player Fred Abong (who left to play in Donelly's much more commercially viable group Belly) yet announced, the official lineup for the Red Heaven sessions consisted simply of Kristin Hersh and David Narcizo, while bass duties were handled by former bandmember Leslie Langston and eventual member Bernard Georges. The departures of Donelly and Abong stripped the shellac from the glossy studio sound that had coated the Muses' previous album The Real Ramona, allowing Hersh's guitar to stand alone in a raw, distorted light. Living up to the expectations created by previous EPs, crisp, reverb-laden vocals, and fearless guitars punch all three of the Firepile #1 B-sides home. The songs exude a cold heat, especially the stark, haunting "City of the Dead," of which Hersh has said: "It's about New Orleans... when the first settlers (a wild bunch of guys, from what I've heard) tried to bury their dead, the bodies floated out of the graves and down the street with the first rainstorm! We tried this song fast, slow, loud and quiet. It ended up as a Red Heaven B-side, distorted and dirge-like." Narcizo's drumming is creepy and deliberate (further evidence that he's one of the most versatile and underappreciated thumpers in rock), while Hersh's guitar wails over her vocals "I won't stay married/'Cause you won't stay buried/Stop your talkin' in my dreams." Along with a 1992 re-recording of "Snailhead," from the Chains Changed EP, the Muses also try their hand at Hendrix's "Manic Depression," truncating the song and doing away with the vocals. As with all of the songs Hersh and company covered, they make it their own simply by performing it in their inimitable style. Though most of the singles the band released were pressed and issued in the U.K. and sold in the U.S. only as imports, they are invaluable to any Muses fan. The "Firepile" singles, though extremely difficult to find, offer a unique insight into one of the country's most innovative yet criminally overlooked post-punk bands.


Formed: 1983 in Providence, RI

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s

One of the greatest college bands of the '80s, Throwing Muses was formed in 1983 by guitarist/vocalist Kristin Hersh and her half-sister guitarist/vocalist Tanya Donelly with a few friends from high school. In 1986, the group's debut album was put out by the prestigious British label 4AD; Throwing Muses was the first American band to be released on that label. Throwing Muses' angular, anguished, mercurial sound had much to do with Hersh's mental illness (she suffered from a form of bipolarity that...
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