Although Thalia Zedek is a veteran of such highly regarded bands as Come and Live Skull, she sounds more like an existential survivor, fighting the good fight with one hand and smoking unfiltered Camels in the other. I’ll admit to being a sucker for a scuffed voice, totally in love with people who carry the weight of the world on their cut-up chords. Zedek is set to enter the pantheon of women who sing the blues with all the scuzz intact, the voices of visionaries with an unforgiving range.
“Everything Unkind”, the opening track, tilts and stumbles like a bruised shot of country lament: “I got tired of acting in my own defense”, she bellows in this sick-of-you love song. Thalia Zedek has the kind of singing voice that evokes a streetwise kind of agony. Like Nico, Marianne Faithfull, and Patti Smith, Zedek’s bottomed-out growl coasts just a breath above wiping out, like the last-call wailing of a drunk about to kiss floor. The music itself evokes that sort of pool hall chanteuse vibe: mumbling piano, loose and slow strings, and drums that sound sluggishly martial. “JJ85” is the notable exception in atmosphere (jaunty by her standards) and the track on which her voice thins out to its furthest reaches. It almost sounds delicate. Zedek’s take on Dylan’s “You’re a Big Girl Now” melodramatically overstates the original to mixed effect. Her rendition has more intervals of emphatic hollering, an urgency that the original submerges, but it washes itself out in strings and sounds less poignant by flooding the instruments over her vocals. I give her chops for the indifference with which she covers critically cloistered artists like Dylan. There’s this “Hey, this is some shit I like” attitude that is somehow appropriately irreverent.
Instead of the sweet, almost coquettish, melancholy of the Velvet Underground’s “Candy Says”, Zedek’s version is used and desolate, a much more scraped-by rendition. This is the kind of credibly tainted weariness that limelit blackhole Courtney Love seems to aspire to, but never comes close to translating into her music. “No Substitutions” is the only track that grinds too heavily down on itself, too dirgy, too buried under strings that sound more like scythes. As a gloomy mood piece, it works flawlessly, but as a listener I’m always half in the bag with Zedek, ready to get out if the going gets nihilistic. To her credit, Zedek has a smoky lilt in her voice, a pinprick of hopefulness that she continually resurrects from the collapsing wrecks of the some of the surrounding music. But there is always the danger, which Cat Power suffers from as well, that you can turn plaintiveness into emotional monotone. We’ve all met the depressed narcissist that you can’t wait to get away from because their pain is as dull as it is deserved. Not that Zedek faces any real likelihood of becoming boring. She has a tight rein on her voice even though, at first listen, it sounds like she just kicks it down the stairs. Better still, she has an incredible hard knock knack for eloquently snagging bitterness. In “No Fire” she scoffs, “You can leave me, go save somebody else”, “We’re adversaries cuz that suits your end”, or my personal favorite, “We used each other well”, which in this instant clearly means that we’re both masters of the dark arts of abusive love.
This EP is beautifully down and out, a breath of fresh soot. Thalia Zedek bears repeated listens even when mercilessly mining the unbearable. You’re a Big Girl Now is a teaser follow-up to last year’s full length, Been Here and Gone. I can’t wait for the next installment. This snack size Zedek has only made me crave a longer play version of her lighter shade of bale.