From Uzi, Live Skull, and Come, to her numerous solo efforts, the fiery guitarist has never compromised, making her one of modern indie rock’s most challenging and cathartic artists.
BY JOHN SCHACHT
Readers and musicians alike recoil when the word “formula” finds its way into a review, the implication being that the musician has abdicated their creative role to rely on well-worn tropes—either of their own making or (worse yet) another’s. But saying a musician has grown comfortable in their skin, or knows what works for them and sticks to it, gets at the same idea while leaving enough leg room to suggest that imagination and experimentation still fuel their creative fire.
Fire, of course, has never been the issue with Thalia Zedek, whose indelible persona seared itself into underground bands like Uzi, Live Skull and, most notably, Come. But by now, with Eve, her seventh solo effort since Come disbanded in 2001, listeners have come to know what to expect from a Thalia Zedek record—and on an album that advocates, at least in part, acceptance as a means of survival, that’s part of the bargain. The Boston stalwart hasn’t altered her style much going solo, only refined it and added the occasional wrinkle. Her influences—Patti Smith and Nick Cave, especially—remain apparent in her songs, but Zedek’s always had too unique a voice to be a mere knockoff—and that extends beyond the smoky, occasionally off-key vocal delivery which she seems more comfortable with as she grows older.
So most of the 10 tracks on Eve (Thrill Jockey) represent what we’ve come to expect from Zedek—extended, slow-burn songs (four stretch out to six-plus minutes) that evolve from quiet viola and/or piano-accented meditations into emotionally cathartic maelstroms built mostly around her biting guitar. The best of these again feature Zedek working with violist David Michael Curry and pianist Mel Lederman, and these explorations of loss, isolation and alienation leave emotional marks in their wake. It’s not as bleak as it may sound, though—there is freedom and catharsis in the acceptance of those human traits, a key element in Eve.
Opener “Afloat,” for instance, ebbs and flows like the metaphoric flood it describes, staccato viola ratcheting up the tension over the churning rhythms until the narrator relinquishes control and floats with the song’s eventual flow instead of against it.
Similarly, in “360°,” Lederman drops Nicky Hopkins-like fills between guitar riffs and the cresting rhythm section while Zedek exclaims, “When you let go, you can see 360, you are free in all degrees,” practically willing it into reality through the music’s urgency. On the skittish “By the Hand,” as Zedek and Curry interplay in fine Mick Turner/Warren Ellis tradition, the narrator recounts an increasingly nerve-wracking dream of being chased through a city she doesn’t recognize, but takes solace in that “I know the streets, and I know where I’m from.”
Zedek’s comfort with her bandmates plays out in many ways, but especially in the time-shift, proggy middle 8s of the sinister “Northwest Branch,” or in the three-minute improvised breakdown that closes out “Walking in Time.” On that song, the LP’s most charged rocker, Zedek declares that “now that the tide has turned and our ship has sailed, we are walking in time”—a tacit admission that with age comes self-knowledge and the wisdom to appreciate the moment (and the music) for the life-affirming service it provides. If that’s Zedek’s formula, it’s one that we could use more of.
Photo Credit: Ben Stas. Zedek will be touring this month and during September. Dates can be found HERE.