In the course of a decade, a word mutates from categorical insult to magical marketing tool. Throwing Muses continue to quietly define what it means to be a real alternative. Welcome to Limbo, the Musesí amazing debut on their own Throwing Music/Rykodisc label.

Throwing Musesí influential career began in 1986, when a group of Rhode Island teenagers became the first American band to sign with the powerful U.K. independent label 4AD. The Muses then consisted of a pair of baby-faced stepsisters (one a teen mother), a boy theyíd been playing songs with since they were 14, and a tall, dreadlocked bass player from California. The music was far stranger than the musicians: the bandís self-titled 4AD debut shook off pop conventions by following natural warps that had nothing to do with tidy, simplistic, pop-song structures. The sound was a twist of appropriated cowboy rhythms and frantic jigs, dark wit and hallucinatory narratives. Kristin Hersh, the bandís 19-year-old leader, described seeing "song bodies" that literally "came out of the wall" like living entities. She sang with the entranced stare of a child channeler while picking out difficult, mesmerizing melodies on guitar. With the release of Throwing Muses, she became a British superstar, featured on the cover of every major English music magazine.

An American major-label deal followed, yielding seven full-length albums that fueled the bandís enduring cult popularity in the U.S. and maintained their status as pop stars in Britain. With each release, the Musesí musical perspective shifted, sometimes dramatically. House Tornado (1988), a complicated collection many longtime fans cite as their favorite Muses album, was followed the next year by the relatively jangly radio-friendly Hunkpapa. The Real Ramona (1991) was a mixed collection of hooky pop and barbed beauty. With Red Heaven (1992), Throwing Muses discovered the implicit strength of the trio form. After that tour, while the band figured out its next move, Hersh took advantage of the time at home with her two boys (Dylan, now 10 and Ryder, now 5), to write a new collection of acoustic songs. At the urging of her friends and husband/manager Billy OíConnell, Hersh recorded and toured a bewitching solo album, Hips And Makers (1994), simultaneously helping to generate a new surge of interest in Throwing Muses. The trioís surfadelic-tinted 1995 release, University, launched the current line-up -- Hersh, founding drummer David Narcizo and bassist Bernard Georges -- and attracted a legion of newcomers to the bandís immutable fan base. "I have a lot of respect for people who listen to Throwing Muses," says Hersh. "Itís certainly never been forced down anyoneís throat, and it doesnít go down like syrup."

Limboís fearlessly clean production style lays bare Hershís singular songwriting gift, exposing the song bodies she still describes as "big, live things that have more to do with themselves than with my brain." Like University, Limbo was recorded by the band and engineer Trina Shoemaker at Daniel Lanoisí New Orleans studio, Kingsway. Explaining the Musesí decision to continue producing themselves, Hersh says, "Itís usually pretty clear to us what needs to be done. Good production shouldnít involve a lot of moves. If a song starts to sound produced, itís top-heavy. Youíre layering over the band." On Limbo, intermittent blasts of buzzy lead guitar and grace notes by cellist Martin McCarrack add depth to the mix without burying it. Straight-ahead beats and bass lines gracefully keep pace alongside rushes of masterful, mostly clean-toned guitar. "I realized a few years ago that distortion was becoming a huge crutch for me," admits Hersh. "There are so many styles of distortion and each of them ties you to the sound of a specific period. Clean guitar is timeless, and when you can hear the part as itís actually played, it sounds more muscular."

The minimalistic approach allows space for Throwing Musesí deceptively intricate compositions. This is an album full of subtle shifts and sudden sharp turns. A seamless flow of time changes in "Tar Kissers" bends the songís spaghetti-western overtones into more sophisticated dimensions. The sexy/psychedelic title track, introduced by the jarring metallic clang of an electric cello, seduces with a trippy sense of danger. The tuneful pop of "Ruthieís Knocking" surges with harmonic Beatles-esque crescendos, veiling the subtle threats within ("Donít look in the mirror/or heíll look back at you"). "Freeloader" gallops along like a swaggering cowboy ("I donít hear, I donít hear/ Iím a freethinker"), veering into flamenco-tinged bridges and a moody Spanish epilogue. "Tango" is a heady spin of menacing sexuality; "Serene," a gentle 3/4 strum touched off by an exquisitely melancholy string part, is as comfortable as a recurring dream. Limboís striking cover art features exclusive drawings by Gilbert Hernandez of Love & Rockets comics fame.

Limbo is a strange place, alternately heavy and weightless, somewhere between heaven and hell. The sound of it is pure; it tells the truth. "I don't think the specifics of any truth matter very much," says Hersh. "The sound will resonate in that part of you that tells the truth."

With this release, Throwing Muses have come home to a place they were probably destined to be. Limbo is the confidently complex work of a band that has always followed its own artistic counsel, and the Throwing Music/Rykodisc joint venture is a natural fit. In July 1995, the band opted out of the major-label arena in favor of more specialized support. With the competent backing of Rykodisc (label head Don Rose, whoís thanked on the liner notes of more than one Muses album, is a devoted fan), Throwing Music will provide the Muses with the freedom of their own turf and the rights to their own masters. As Hersh puts it, "Success in our eyes is being able to make the record we want to make and still be able to pay the bills."

Info taken from Rykodisc/Throwing Muses homepage