Album Review: Lomelda – ThxFebruary 5, 2018
I wish it wasn’t a hilarious cliché for music writers to misuse the word “angular”, because that’s exactly what this album sounds like: unpredictable and sharp, with acute vocals and scalene rhythms, melodies and chord progressions. It’s a subtly unique sound, somehow, one that I’ve been thinking for months about how to write about. Thx immediately hit me as creative in the best sense: though it works in the established tradition of folk-cum-indie, it spit-shines its clichés into personality and texture.
Songwriter, guitarist, and vocalist Hannah Read’s vocals are deceptively proficient: she often sings in an understated range, at the volume and strain you might expect from an indoor conversation. But they show some serious force, when the time is right: like the final chorus of ‘Bam Sha Klam’, powerfully cathartic, charged with the song’s earlier subdued emotion. Clearly, some tremendous force simmers under the surface of her quieter moments.
Read sings, a lot, about distance. She’s from a small town in Texas, Silsbee, and often drives for hours to play shows in Houston and Austin. The physical and the emotional become one in her lyrics: highways as metaphors, people as destinations; Texas, Brooklyn, interstates, parking lots, home. Even the instruments’ melodies and harmonies seem to travel: although always harmonic, they tug and pull, ingrained with some desire to go their own individual way, like the harmonies on ‘Nervous Driver’, or the fingerpicking on the opener, ‘Interstate Vision’.
But, of course, it’s not just physical distance. The album’s title itself evokes the peculiar distance of digital communication, as does ‘From Here’, and the cover, like a David Shrigley take on the 90s’ “Happy Mac” faces. Read perhaps means to say that this appearance of happiness is contrived in some way: like putting on one’s ‘happy face’ for a text or phone call.
Read’s lyrics often flow in long, hesitating sentences, like in the uneasy 7/8 ‘From Here’: “Come on you know that’s not what I meant/It’s not like I want to keep you out/Or keep it in just keep it up/Isn’t that hard enough”. This kind of tangled grammar reminds me, vividly, of nervous conversations, thought caught up in feeling, an inability to be calmly specific. “You know, we got along without, within, with all I’ve got/I know we’ll get along without,” Read sings on the 5/4 title track, ‘Thx’. The sentiment is always clear; and though the literal meaning might take some work, the latter is obviously not so important. Thx evokes, and embraces, the inherent inexpressibility of emotion.
Despite all this, I must say that it isn’t a lonely record. It keeps love close to its heart, not closed-off, resigned or self-denying. The production is always full and warm, without being overbearing. The lyrics, though often about heartbreak and the isolation it brings, never fail to imply the positivity inherent to human friendship. Read’s inner monologues are mindful, experiential, imperfectly human; and Thx’s innocently-smiling artwork somehow never fails to reassure.
I was stunned—and delighted—to hear references on this album to both Elliott Smith and Phil Elverum. The former is in ‘Out There’; the latter, in the album’s penultimate track, ‘Mostly M.E.’. Like the track (‘The Place I Live’) the Mount Eerie reference borrows from, Lomelda’s Thx is an acceptance of one’s scale against the great distances of the world. In these two tracks, both Read and Elverum feel tiny, set against some great landscape backdrop. But the two songwriters are still resolutely human. “When I get it, I’ll give it all I got this time,” repeats Read on the album’s closer, ‘Only World’. It ends on that forward-looking note: ‘I’m still here, in the only world.”
I wouldn’t call Lomelda’s Thx avant-garde, but it’s gently experimental, in an inimitable way. Their very recent Lomelda on Audiotree Live LP also showcases these magnificent tracks with a new playfulness: new effects, ornamentations, all of that great stuff. Lomelda, and Hannah Read, are certainly ones to watch.