Throwing Muses: House Tornado

It was 1988 when I ditched radio and depended on magazines to direct my choices in music, and it was Pulse! magazine in particular that directed me to Throwing Muses. Back then, my knowledge of post-punk music extended to Midnight Oil, R.E.M., In Tua Nua and the Sugarcubes. I was hoping Throwing Muses would be the same.

Boy was I ever off the mark.

I bought House Tornado and listened to it. I couldn’t get into it. I played the album for a friend also exploring the same music as I was. He didn’t get it either. Thus humbled, I sold the album and used the proceeds to get something else. I’d buy The Real Ramona a few years later, but that was the extent of my interest in Throwing Muses.

In the ensuing years, I would listen to a lot of music. Some of it more challenging than Throwing Muses, some of it nowhere near as challenging as Throwing Muses. The Real Ramona would turn out to be a staple in my collection, an album so enduring it never got tired after years of repeated play. After a while, a little variety felt needed.

Nearly 20 years after my first encounter with House Tornado, I wondered what would happen if I heard it again. So I found it again, and I listened to it again.

It became apparent: I was too young to be listening to Throwing Muses. House Tornado is the kind of album that really requires mature ears to appreciate.

Back then, songwriters Kristen Hersh and Tanya Donelly weren’t ones to write verses and choruses. Songs such as "Drive", "Run Letter" and "Downtown" would repeat single ideas for a seemingly long time before shifting abruptly to something else. Hersh and Donelly sang more in bursts of musical phrases than anything resembling a melody, and the music itself wove in influences as diverse as punk and country.

The production of House Tornado also sounded slender next to the bombast of other bands I was listening to at the time. I would fall asleep listening to this album.

For a young person not yet unaccustomed to songs with such liberal structures, House Tornado was impenetrable.

Later Throwing Muses albums would corral these stream-of-conscience ideas into more conventional forms, but before then, the band would zig-zag at their songs’ whims. Bassist Leslie Langston and drummer Dave Narcizo deserves mad props for keeping up with the music’s unpredictable turns.

While House Tornado is unconventional, it’s not entirely tuneless. "Juno" was a college hit at the time, and after a bizarrely rhythmic first half, "Marriage Tree" settles into a comfortable rhythm. Even "Colder" and "Mexican Women" are oddly singable.

Hersh and Donelly possess distinctive voices, leaping and whelping when the melodies got unhinged, their harmonies often bittersweet. Donelly would go on to form Belly and score a hit with "Sister", ushering a number of imitators in her wake.

With House Tornado, Throwing Muses recorded an adventurous album, but it required just as much adventurousness to listen it. The off-kilter songwriting can make it inaccessible to listeners not used to music with such a malleable sense of structure.

I didn’t get it two decades ago. It makes a lot more sense to me now.