Kristin Hersh, unapologetic rocker and mother of four, could be a model for female musicians. Hersh—who would probably object to the unavoidable focus on her gender—has been a staple of indie rock for over two decades. With the strong, swelling melodies driving her new solo album Learn To Sing Like A Star, Hersh proves that her toughness hasn’t waned over the years. If anything, Hersh’s music has sharpened along with her icy wit, gaining character as her signature raspy vocals have developed.
The whip-smart Learn To Sing Like A Star weaves the raw guitar playing of Hersh’s group project, 50 Foot Wave, with lush string arrangements to form an apocalyptic tapestry. Although Hersh has dismissed the ‘angry young woman’ label critics have granted her in the past in favor of adjectives like ‘fierce, quirky and imaginative’, Learn To Sing Like A Star tastes strongly acidic: like razors hidden underneath a soft blanket, or punch spiked with vodka.
But Learn To Sing Like A Star’s overwhelming impression is one of maturity—while Hersh’s fiery nature is still fully aflame, this is a collection of songs written by one who has lived. From the darkly bombastic opener “In Shock” through the strident climaxes of “Day Glo” to the stormy pop of “Wild Vanilla”, Learn To Sing Like A Star ripens on each listen, continuously yielding Hersh’s hard-gained musical wisdom.
Hersh’s visceral, poetic lyrics retain her signature surrealism, matching the album’s spirit of anti-conformist spirit. “Nerve endings think they see pleasure coming/I know better/put a rock into my brain/I feel almost everything” she rails in the bold anthem “Nerve Endings”.
The body-related imagery is apt: Hersh’s guitar strumming sounds rough enough to make her fingers bleed—particularly on the highlight track “Sugarbaby”. This abrasive style, when met with the unexpectedly lush sounds of cello and church bells on another standout, “Winter”, recalls a kind of stark beauty: pinpoints of stars pinning up a black sky, shadows looming over a barren, gleaming snowscape.
Kristin Hersh named this album after the subject line of a spam email that arrived in her inbox one day. Little did the senders know whom they had targeted—Learn To Sing Like A Star is an album of defiant intellect and feminine swagger by an artist who already knows everything she needs to learn.