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Thalia Zedek - Via

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Artist: Thalia Zedek

Album: Via

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Mar. 27, 2013

Thalia Zedek’s solo career has, to date, been a more muted affair than her full-band dalliances with Uzi, Live Skull and Come, surrounding her sandpapered, survivor’s rasp with piano, drums and, particularly, David Michael Curry’s wild, emotionally charged violin-playing. Then with 2008’s Liars and Prayers, the no-wave icon began turning up the volume, her ravaged voice surfing over roiling tides of dissonant guitar. In Via, she continues her journey back into rock abandon, beginning in the relative clarity of first single, “Walk Away,” and ending up in the maelstrom breakdown of closer “Want You To Know.”

Zedek worked with two drummers this time, first with Daniel Coughlin, a long-time fixture on her solo work and also Come’s old drummer, and later, Dave Bryson who is best known for his work with Son Volt. The rest of her band is familiar – Curry on violin and Mel Lederson on piano. Zedek herself plays guitar and sings, as usual.

I’m not sure you can attribute the shift toward more chaotic, untrammeled rock and roll to a mid-album switch in drummers, so let’s lay it at Zedek’s feet. She, after all, spends most of the album singing about the past’s long reach, its way of reappearing suddenly as long-dormant relationships re-animate, or its surprising power to shape people, events and emotions. It’s not much of a jump to imagine her backward look leading to the heavy guitars, the irregular rhythms, the pummeling overload of her 1980s and ’90s work. Zedek’s past is not a light or easy thing, either personally or musically, and neither is Via.

Most of these songs start in a meditative, mournful way, Zedek’s voice framed by stark, minimal elements. In “Walk Away,” Curry’s violin scrapes and keens ferally over a steady guitar pulse. Zedek’s voice floats over the arrangement, haggard, blunt and full of exhausted strength, as she sings about absence, loss and the inexorable passage of time. So far, pretty standard. But then there’s a surge, a big crash of guitar notes, a densifying and intensifying of drums. The song has an arresting image at its center, a very specific form of emptiness that comes when one person exits your life. “There’s a lusty ghost who hovers in this place, but you still see a trace,” sings Zedek and later, “They’re no longer there, their holy ghost still haunts my face.” A cacophony of sounds comes to fill that emptiness, a headiness of violin, percussion and feedback that both marks and obliterates the absence.

Some of these songs are fairly freeform (“Winning Hand”), others adhere loosely to indie-rock rhythms, structures and conventions (“Straight and Strong”, “Get Away”, “He Said”). All seem to, simultaneously, tear open wounds and roughly repair them. Even Zedek’s voice has a way of breaking apart, then gathering itself in strength and resolution, as if she were able to pick at her most raw places and sooth them at the same time. “Lucky One,” the long penultimate track, starts in bare desolation, just piano, drums and quiet vocals, but gradually gathers strength, turning from a lament into a declaration of survival. And “Want You to Know” pushes right over the edge, transcending hurt and blame and recollection in a heady sweep of sensation, a sawing, pounding, keening, crashing turmoil that builds until it swamps the song’s original subject matter and becomes its own statement of strength.

Via is not an especially easy album to assimilate. There are no big hooks, no sing-along chorusres, no real respite from a cataract of emotion. I’m not sure that Zedek is a great songwriter – her most memorable solo performances are still covers like “Candy Says” and “Baby, You’re a Big Girl Now” from the first EP – but she’s a fantastic channeler and shaper of raw feeling. You can’t listen to Via without going through the wringer, but you also can’t listen to it without feeling stronger, surer and more defiant afterward.

By Jennifer Kelly

Other Reviews of Thalia Zedek

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Liars and Prayers

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