The albums of gruff-voiced Boston balladeer Thalia Zedek tend to creep out into the light at a pace even slower than her lived-in songs. This unhurried time frame is no detriment; if anything, allowing the turmoil and rage that churns in her music to age a bit is likely the key to how rich and considered her solo works over the last decade have turned out. The end run to this month’s new “Via” (Thrill Jockey), though, was a bit different, spurred on by major moves — and barely escaping last fall’s devastating hurricane.
Zedek had hit a relaxed stride to her career by the time her first solo album came out in 2001. Since she’d moved to Boston in 1979 as a teenager, she’d bounced between a string of ferocious art-punk bands like White Women and Uzi before landing a spot as lead singer with the New York band Live Skull, and most notably in 1990, forming one-of-a-kind guitar band Come, which released four albums in a little over a decade. By comparison, her solo career has eased out an album every four years or so.
Last summer, though, when Zedek’s drummer Daniel Coughlin announced a move to Buenos Aires, the band leapt to action to make sure they had a document of what had been a fruitful phase of writing. They recorded with longtime Boston scene linchpin Andrew Schneider, who was just finishing work on his brand-new studio in Brooklyn, Translator Audio. A week after Zedek finished the very last line of vocal overdubs, Hurricane Sandy destroyed the entire studio. The record made it out, though (benefits continue for Schneider’s studio, including one at the Middle East last weekend). This Monday, Zedek kicks off a weekly series at T.T. the Bear’s to celebrate the new record’s release, performing music from a different one of her four solo albums each week.
“I remember that last trip I took to Andrew’s studio,” Zedek says. “He was talking all about how he couldn’t believe how it was finally coming together exactly the way he wanted, how he’d never thought it would happen. And then it was gone.”
Bad vibes have been a natural part of Zedek’s career. Come, which she formed with Chris Brokaw from “slow-core” pioneers Codeine, lasted 10 years and held a unique sway over the indie rock scene of the time. They were lowdown noisy
grunge, creaky blues rock, and had an ice-cold sense of melodic interplay, partly retained from Codeine, and partly slaked off of Zedek’s grimly howling vocals. Zedek relived landscapes of pain, regret, and loss through those songs, and built a reputation as one of indie rock’s most psychologically ravaged voices.
When Come broke up and Zedek started her solo career, that morose mystique followed her into her first album, 2001’s “Been Here and Gone.” But she’d turned a corner. No longer gunning for the doom and fear she’d been charting through the ’90s, Zedek began experimenting with old torch songs and the mellower tones of the piano and viola, and her lyrics eased toward reconciliation and acceptance. Musically, her work started to feel like well-worn boots, similar to the transformation Nick Cave underwent on the way from crazed Birthday Party frontman to “Boatman’s Call”-era hushed troubadour.
Violist David Michael Curry had just begun learning to play the viola when he joined Zedek during the recording of the first album. “I had some anxiety about it because of the huge respect I had for Come,” he says. “And I suffered through self-confidence issues in those days. But what I did with viola was nontraditional and it worked more with coloring and experimentation.” The new route was set — Zedek would approach her work as the songs’ only real author, but with room for everyone to grow into them.
And so the roiling piano of Mel Lederman was free to roam below the surface along with the seasick drumming of Daniel Coughlin (the band is now rounded out by drummer Dave Norton and bassist Winston Braman).
Going back to relearn the past material, which has evolved freely from album to album, Zedek says it wasn’t close to the shock of going back to older Come albums when that band performed a brief reunion in 2010. “I feel a lot more connected with this stuff,” she says. “I actually still know this person, whereas with the older stuff I just have no idea.”
When the band added Coughlin (of Son Volt) for this new batch of songs, they found themselves hitting with a livelier punch than anything in recent memory. It’s not a total about-face — “Winning Hand” is as stoic a song as Zedek’s ever recorded — but “Via” is full of concise guitar solo breaks, chunky drumming, and a sense of broad-stroked experimentation that previous efforts rarely touched. It feels more wide-awake than most anything longtime fans would associate with a star who, for the better part of her career, struck a permanently brooding pose.
It may take some time to sink in, though.
“It’s already started with the reviews,” says Zedek. “It’s the same ‘angst, agony, and anguish’ bit. I think, ‘What are you listening to?’ ”
Saturday night brings to the Lily Pad not only the first in a monthly series of shows from the sprawling imaginations of the Bodies of Water Arts and Crafts/Boston Hassle crew — dubbed “Hassle Night” — but also a release party for deep psych explorers Herbcraft. The excellent Portland, Maine, collective has made a second home in Boston over recent years and this release, on revered New England freak-folk label Woodsist, will be cause for much bearded, be-flanneled celebration. . . . March 5 at Great Scott, Boston's electro-pop prince Andre Obin releases his churning new album, “The Arsonist” (courtesy of New York label Sky Council). It’s the first full-length of an already promising career that’s seen Obin hit the road with M83 and partner with taste-making labels from Brooklyn to the Netherlands. His hometown party is set to bring along essential Boston pop group Stereo Telescope, the swirling dance collage work of AVOXBLUE, and DJ Leah V. . . . March 11 brings the most laid-back (no cover!) rock standby in town, the weekly “Night of the Living Deadhead” at Zuzu. This night features the mood-swinging guitar pop of Radio Astronomer and the lush, confessional songs of All Eyes Are on Me Now, fresh off a record release of their own back in February.Matt Parish can be reached at mattparish
Correction: Because of a reporting error, an earlier version of this story misidentified the drummer for the Thalia Zedek Band. His name is Daniel Coughlin.