Thalia Zedek is having a good year. Her own band’s release Eve from this summer was stunning. That album’s songs worked their way patiently through dark places, fighting for release. Zedek sang with maturity, resisting a downward spiral while holding no illusions, and she and her band played with a control that knew when to let go. With her new group E and its self-titled debut, she takes a different but no less effective approach. Where Eve started in gloom and lifted itself out, E opens in the midst of doom and fights its way forward.
Opener “Great Light” sets the tone immediately with a raucous riff and frantic drumming. There’s no hesitation as the trio pummels strings and skins from the first moments. Zedek’s post-punk guitar drives the song, her vocals groaning at something until the group catches its breath, a male voice (presumably Jason Sanford’s) finally repeating “I command it” until everything else drops away.
The presence of that voice early on is essential. To some fans, the group might appear to be Zedek’s latest project, a noisy experiment after previous acts like Live Skull, Come, and Uzi, and concurrent with the Thalia Zedek Band. In reality, the group is a real collaboration between Zedek, guitarist Sanford (from Neptune) and drummer Gavin McCarthy (Karate). Each member contributes something, and the resulting stew tends toward noise-rock or no-wave sounds without being overly complicated.
The songs come in relatively short bursts (aside from the ever-building “Delicate Fingers”, which marks the change in a gradual shift by switching vocalists). In these smaller frames, the band is both explosive and organized. There’s little math or rigidity here, yet the specificity holds everything in place, allowing for McCarthy’s frantic drumming and the guitarists’ conversation. Despite the dual-guitar attack, it’s not a guitar show. Sanford, in fact, plays more to tones and effects, with Zedek doing the heavier riffing. The two combine into something appropriately abrasive; it hurts, but only the right amount.
While not limited to this historical moment, E fits it. “I Want to Feel Good” marks anxious thinking on immigration, reeling off like lost dreams on a trip “back home.” “Candidate” takes a journey through some insanity (and maybe some scheming in “an obvious tell”) before our deranged narrator decides he’s running for president. Devoid of political context, it’s a scary track, with a “psychic surgeon” coming for a “vestal virgin” as haunted background vocals moan.
The trio shows up, hits hard, and leaves after just over half an hour of music that’s simultaneously jittery and aggressive. Things look bleak, but E plays like they know that while there are no easy answers, you can always batter your way ahead.