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Album Cover Kristin Hersh - Sky Motel (4AD)

Alternative music, what an abused term. Am I the only one who remembers what it really meant? The days when you were in school swapping tapes with those lucky people with older brothers and sisters, the days you heard new bizarre and wonderful music nearly everyday, something unlike that which you heard on daytime radio. The days you discovered that the late-night radio show wasn't crap because you didn't know the music, but was great for the same reason.

And the bands! The ones that would draw a blank look from pop-pickers, scorn from dancefloor addicts and, if you weren't careful, a beating from metallers, bands like the Pixies, Husker Du, the Sugarcubes and the wonderful Throwing Muses. Then along came Nirvana, MTV discovered alternative and it became mainstream, ruining it forever.

But, while a lot of the bands were dragged into the charts and acquired a horrible teeny-bopper following, a few never quite made it, to the delight of fans who prefer small clubs to stadiums and albums to singles. Two of those were 4AD's Pixies and the Muses, who both split before the explosion and dodged the hype. The Breeders, Frank Black, Belly and the slimmed-down Muses stayed out at the edge, sometimes disappointing, but always doing their own thing.

"Sky Motel" is the latest chapter in the long-running saga of these two bands. This is Kristin's fourth solo album, but in many ways it's also her first. "Sky Motel" follows two acoustic releases and one collection of folk songs and sees Kristin plug back in to evoke the memory of the Muses. There's quirky pop songs - 'Echo', 'Costa Rico', 'San Francisco' - slow, mellow songs - 'White Trash Moon', 'Husk', 'Caffeine' - brooding atmospheric songs - 'Cathedral Heat', 'Clay Feet; - and grungy guitar tracks - 'Fog', 'A Cleaner Light' - all of which show a master of true alternative music at work. There's also the usual brutal honesty in the lyrics, Kristin Hersh hasn't had an easy life and here experiences form her subject matter, but she isn't an intolerable whine like Alanis bloody Morisette. At no point is musical enjoyment sacrificed for whinging, Kristin lays bare her heart, but coats it in a sweet, though never sickly, sound.

Listening to this, it is hard to believe that it's approaching ten years since the Pixies split and Tanya Donnelly left the Muses, but it is. Time passes, music changes, but every now and again, something comes along to remind you of a time when music really excited you. A treasure.

by Donnacha DeLong