[26 March 2013]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
Thalia Zedek is one of those long-respected artists, the kind with a loyal base of fans and undying respect from other musicians. She’s been making music since the early ‘80s, in punk bands like Uzi and Live Skull, though she’s best known for her work in the seminal ‘90s band Come. Since the Matador 21 shows in Las Vegas, which included a set from the reunited Come, that “seminal” tag has become more solidified. The band’s reputation has grown and expanded, and Matador is celebrating that with a vinyl re-issue of Come’s 1992 classic, Eleven: Eleven, this May.
That surely is an album worthy of this kind of celebration, but it’s Zedek’s new solo record, Via, that may be her crowning achievement of 2013. It’s her fourth proper solo record and comes five years after her last album, Liars and Prayers. Zedek’s solo work, which plays like a more intimate take on the bluesy charge Come dealt in, has been slowly stretching out and evolving over the past 12 years, and Via is her most vibrant and volatile set to date.
Via deals heavily in different permutations of the past. Opener “Walk Away” is about the time after that title command happens, when “I can see the trace of where you walked away” or of the realization that “the future cannot change the past.” On “Winning Hand”, that connection between past and future is mentioned again, as Zedek asks someone about “warnings of the future divined solely from the past.” On “Get Away”, Zedek puzzles over a friend who “never shut the door completely, / all you need is a crack, to leave the past intact.” There are other attachments to the past, particularly through luck (often derived from superstition over past successes).
But though this is an album about heartache and past betrayals and what could have been, Zedek is not mired in this past so much as she’s delving into a growing distance between it and her. While she may, for instance, admit “it’s not easy to get up when you fall” on “In This World”, she has hardly given up. Instead, she insists “you’ve got to crawl.” And this is the sound of a damned resilient crawl. Zedek takes us on a tour of the past as if it’s a condemned museum. It’s full of the good and the bad, but it’s not long for this world. It will implode as soon as we leave the building, though—Zedek might admit—there’ll still be the smoke.
So nothings ever quite gone, but it doesn’t mean we need to keep looking over her shoulder. The music itself takes a similar path, mining elements of Zedek’s musical past to construct new permutations of those sounds. This isn’t leftovers, mind you, but more like a new twist on old traditions. She continues with the guitar/strings/piano layers that have shaped past albums, but this also approaches in more lush textures her rock past. So while we get the drifting keys and space of “Walk Away”, we also get the cutting guitar solos on “Get Away” and “Lucky One” as well as the propulsive churn of “Straight and Strong”. Zedek fills in some of the negative space that have informed her past solo records, but she’s still capable of stretching out across vast musical landscapes. Closer “Want You to Know” goes over eight minutes and combines the thematic and musical movements of the record into a satisfying, if open-ended, conclusion. The song builds over Zedek’s voice and ringing guitar notes, while strings swirl around her, but it eventually erupts into a squal of groaning viola and white-noise distortion. That it returns to the quiet lets us know that the tension—the hurt, the loss—may be truly in the rearview. And when the song erupts again, it’s to Zedek’s command “Come on, let’s go!”
Via, that interstitial term, denotes an album that lays between that volatile past and an uncertain-but-charged-with-energy future. It’s the latter that Zedek has trained her determined sights on in the end, and it’s that hope that injects this album with its power. Zedek—backed by a great band, including new drummer Dave Bryson and the brilliant string work of David Michael Curry—has given us another rumbling, sweet, muscled set of tunes, as resilient as they are beautiful, and showed us that just because you’re in between, doesn’t mean you’re on the fence. So while we too look back to celebrate Come’s Eleven: Eleven in 2013, let’s not—in seeing where she’s been—neglect where Zedek is going, because it’s just as rewarding.