As I mentioned earlier this year, 2013 is a big year for Thalia Zedek. She released a new album, Via, with her solo band a few months back and toured the States and Europe in support of it (here's my entry on the Union Pool show), and recently Matador reissued Come's iconic first album Eleven:Eleven after many years of it sadly languishing out of print. Recent years have found the members of Come working together (as on their brief 2011 reunion tour, which I attended and enjoyed), so with the anniversary and all, the time seems right for a tour, no?
I first heard Eleven:Eleven in about 2006, when I was managing a door factory on Long Island, and Come's bleak yet rockin' odes to despair and helplessness fit that chapter of my life VERY nicely at that point. Eleven:Eleven is truly one of indie rock's underappreciated albums, and it's good to see that the publicity surrounding the reissue has stirred up a decent groundswell of interest in it.
J in to Bowery, and I arrived during Come's first song of the evening. I was under the impression that the band were going to be performing Eleven:Eleven in its entirety, but instead they chose to treat the crowd to highlights from Come's catalog. Highlights for me were most of Eleven:Eleven's faster-paced songs: "Dead Molly," "Submerge" (see video below), "William," and "Fast Piss Blues" among them, as well as songs from other Come releases such as "Cimmaron" and "In / Out."
As a fan of the material released by Zedek's moodier solo band over the last several years, it's easy to forget just how heavy Eleven:Eleven is, and what a monster the band can be live. Come's engine is heavy-hitting drummer Arthur Johnson, whose superlative work on the skins leads Come's music through changing tempos and plenty of quiet / loud dynamics. Zedek and fellow guitarist Chris Brokaw trade off on lead and rhythm, occasionally intertwining leads seemingly telepathically, Marquee Moon-style. Brokaw's mastery of the slide guitar highlights some of the more miasmic moments.
Come has three dates left on this tour: 7/12 at the Empty Bottle in Chicago, 7/26 at the 40 Watt in Athens, Ga, and 7/27 at the Earl in Atlanta. If you live near any of those venues I strongly advise you to go. Er, I mean, come.
Desperate Ground does *EXACTLY* what The Thermals do well - catchy, fist-pumpin', poppy punk tunes, and it's jampacked with some of the finest vocal melodies Hutch has ever come up with. The critical backlash against this album is unfortunate, but not necessarily unexpected; if you're the type of shithead who's pretending garbage like The Knife, Grimes, or Autre Ne Veut is all that, then you shouldn't be expected to enjoy good things in the first place. And getting all cunty because the Thermals have *gasp!* put out an album that successfully follows the Thermals' formula is just plain confusing. Expecting anything other than rockin', tuneful jams from The Thermals at this point is like moving to Harlem and complaining that "this neighborhood would sure be great without all the black people."
In that same interview, she reveals that her songwriting process is painstakingly based around accumulating fragmented pieces and cobbling them together later into coherent songs. Again, on Marnia this is painfully obvious, in that unlike her eponymous album, there's really only one truly "great" song (the anthemic "Year of the Glad"), but several great "fragments" (the choruses to "Immortals" and "Nothing Is Easy", notably). It's still highly listenable, but a bit of a regression nonetheless.
Thalia Zedek Band - Via
Thalia Zedek Band has a style that's all their own. Theirs is a catalog full of despondent, melancholy songs characterized by rich, patient chording, with tasteful virtuosity from the viola and the piano keeping things from getting too 'Lilith Fair' on ya. Unfortunately, after solid album opener "Walk Away," the next few songs on this album have a kind of "been there, done that," rehashed feel. Things pick up over the album's second half, where the strident rhythms of "Straight and Strong" and the relatively hopeful "Want You to Know" stand out.
I first heard of Thalia Zedek when her three-piece band (guitar / vocals, drums, viola) opened for Dinosaur Jr. at probably the worst rock club I've ever been to in late 2006 [they actually had stripper cages hung over the floor, if you can believe it - who knows, maybe they still do]. I was immediately drawn to her melancholy yet melodic style of songwriting, as well as the way the unusual instrumentation filled out the lengthy instrumental passages -- it's an uncommon alchemy achieved in the combination of raspy vocals, rich guitar chording, eloquent viola and busy drumming. Subsequently, the band added a bassist and a pianist while Ms. Zedek's compositional style continued apace, and as such it became appropriate for the act to be known as Thalia Zedek Band, instead of existing simply under her solo moniker.
2013 is shaping up to be quite a year for Thalia Zedek. She just released a new solo album, Via, on Thrill Jockey (I have to confess I haven't yet heard the album, although I will soon), and May 7th sees Matador's long-awaited reissue of Eleven:Eleven, the excellent debut album by Zedek's influential '90s band, Come. What's more, she just finished a residency at Boston's TT The Bear during March, at which she and her band performed one of each of her solo albums in their entirety per Monday.
This Union Pool show saw the middle date of Thalia Zedek Band's "mini east coast tour," with them set to head on a longer jaunt out west. I arrived at Union Pool early, tired (still tired from the weekend, not to mention the previous night's Sigur Ros show, and way too much driving), cranky, and somewhat hungry; I fixed the latter with a taco and a tostada from Union Pool's taco truck (see below).
I finally walked into the show during opening band Brokeback's set, right smack dab in the middle of a satisfying, 90s-ish two chord jam. (Pretty sure this was an amped-up version of their song "Don't Worry Pigeon.") I really enjoyed what I heard throughout the rest of their all-instrumental set, which ranged from twangy Link Wrayisms, to jaunty Latin-flavored Los Straitjacket-esque numbers, to Crazy Horse-ish heavy fuzziness, all filtered through a healthy dose of Earth's patient persistence. (I've since bought their recent album, entitled Brokeblack and the Black Rock, and it's definitely worth a listen if you're into hazy instrumental rock.)
Thalia and her band took the stage a little after 11:30, treating the crowd to a full set of tunes from her new album, and throwing one one even newer song which hasn't yet been recorded (see the video for "Fell So Hard" below). Unsurprisingly, the new material fits right in with much of Zedek's previous solo work, with mournful, sometimes prickly lyrics backed by a downcast (if still ultimately hopeful) musical bedding. Since the last time I saw the band live (wow, was it really all the way back in 2009?), they've undergone a drummer change, and the new drummer's more minimal style really fits the band's aesthetic, nicely uncluttering the musical landscape somewhat and allowing the instruments (piano and viola, in particular) room to breathe.
As of this writing (nearly two weeks after the show), Thalia Zedek band has wrapped up their West Coast Tour, which went well according to Thalia's frequent Facebook updates. As for Come, their tour dates were revealed a week ago; here they are. I already grabbed my tickets to their Bowery show in late June - see you there!
COME TOUR DATES:
Wednesday, June 19: Bootleg Theater, Los Angeles (foldsilverlake.com) Thursday, June 20: The Independent, San Francisco (theindependentsf.com) Friday, June 21: Mississippi Studios, Portland (mississippistudios.com) Saturday, June 22: The Crocodile, Seattle (thecrocodile.com) Thursday, June 27: The Sinclair, Boston (boweryboston.com) Friday, June 28: The Bowery Ballroom, New York City (boweryballroom.com) Friday, July 12: The Empty Bottle, Chicago (emptybottle.com)
Although there haven't really been any essential albums thus far in '13 (sorry, I'm not drinking the mbv Kool Aid just yet), that could change shortly. Each of the next several Tuesdays has at least one album by a me-approved artist scheduled to drop. Let's talk about that, shall we?
Feb 26 (that's tomorrow!) - Atoms for Peace, Amok
This is the first album by Thom Yorke's "other" act (pictured above). Basically it's pretty much widely accepted that Atoms for Peace is the full-band representation of Yorke's 2006 solo album, Eraser. Eraser was OK, but when I saw Atoms for Peace live in April '10, they really improved on the skeletal Eraser tracks, filling them out with melody, feeling, and (perhaps most importantly) a capable rhythm section.
According to the reviews I've read, Amok is closer to Eraser than an album with full instrumentation should be, which is a shame. If I had to guess, I'd imagine that Amok will be a snoozer, but I'd love for Mr. Yorke and company to prove me wrong.
also out February 26: Mogwai, Les Revenants
The good: last time Mogwai did a full soundtrack for a film was 2006, when their music accompanied the movie about French soccer legend Zidane, and that album featured some decent tracks. This time around, Mogwai is soundtracking a French TV series about zombies, which one would think would be the perfect source material for the band's fuzzed out post rock.
The bad: late last year, Mogwai put out a teaser EP featuring a couple of tracks from the album, and it was the worst non-remix-centric release of the band's career. Hmmmm.
On their fifth studio effort, the men of BOAT will forge ahead in their makeshift, self-styled "sloppy pop" watercraft, bringing hooky, GbV-influenced tunes to the masses. Huzzah! For pre-album release promotional purposes, they asked a bunch of their friends / favorite bands to cover songs from Pretend to Be Brave, and you'll find those songs, as well as first single "Inside an Aquarium" at their Soundcloud page.
March 19 - Marnie Stern, The Chronicles of Marnia
While Marnie Stern's hyper-caffeinated guitar histrionics have always been highly entertaining, I felt that her most recent album, 2010's Marnie Stern, was the first thing she's done where the songwriting matched her obvious talents. In the past, Marnie has relied upon drummer extraordinaire Zach Hill for help with song arrangement (not to mention street cred), but he's got his hands full with his dangerously overrated Death Grips project for now. But fear not, you can't do much better for a substitute than Oneida's Kid Millions, who handles The Chronicles of Marnia's beats.
March 19 - Thalia Zedek Band, Via
This is a big year for Ms. Zedek, as Matador recently announced that they will be reiussing the long out of print debut album from her highly influential '90s project, Come. But before that happens in early May, Zedek's solo act will release their new joint, Via, on Thrill Jockey. I've enjoyed each of her previous solo outings, and I'd expect that this one would be as textured and melodically mournful as her previous work.
Come were a great band, no doubt. Is it heresy to admit that I like Thalia Zedek's solo work even better, though? Although she has augmented her live personnel since the previous time I'd seen her perform (opening up for Dinosaur Jr. late last year), the musical recipe thankfully remains the same: thick, driving, minor key jams with morose lyrics.
But, yeah, quite the formidable live unit. The drummer's crafty hi-hat ornamentations run the table, with the sonic bedding being built by Thalia's persistent chording. Discordant, evil viola twists into and out of the melodies, fucking with the conventional "fills only" mentality that usually applies to non-guitar string instruments in rock bands. And while at first it may seem as though the keyboard is lost in the mix, eventually it became obvious that it is the mix, washing through and over the notes and pushing the extended codas into stunning crescendos. Best show I've seen so far this year, hands down, and the best show I've seen at Tonic since Petra Haden's a capella extravaganza last year.