Sexually inquisitive college girls have Ani DiFranco. Metaphysically minded faerie fetishists have Tori Amos. And aging Gen-X hipsters have Kristin Hersh. And of the three, she's the most underrated and vital. On Learn to Sing Like a Star -- her 21st release in the 21 years since founding Throwing Muses -- she's still one of rock's few married parents who can write and sing as urgently as a tortured single white female fumbling through her twenties. On "Day Glo" she groans, "This isn't anything/Nice silver lining/Getting up is what hurts/Then you'll melt into the background." Maybe it's about a hangover. Maybe it's about aging. Whether you're 21 or 35, it'll hit a nerve.
The bleak content won't faze her regular listeners, but the music will impress those who felt her solo material has faded since 2001's electrifying Sunny Border Blue. Serving as her backing band are Muses drummer David Narcizo and the McCarricks, an experimental duo who bring along tubular bells, a shaker, and backward piano loops, fleshing out Hersh's acoustic guitar and trademark strings. It's haunting chamber rock, with jarring dynamics and a morose ambience evoking the Pixies and Nirvana's Unplugged.