Thalia Zedek is a lifer: a familiar face, vital voice, and visceral presence in the US indie-rock underground for as long as most of us can remember. Boston — where she arrived in 1979 and returned for keeps some years later — has been aware of her since her early combo Dangerous Birds scored a couple of earworm-catchy local hits. The world caught up when Zedek fronted Live Skull, a sort of “Sonic Youth With the Good Gear” that absorbed and amplified her dark charisma, then formed Come, her urban-blues apotheosis with fellow guitarist Chris Brokaw.
Since Come disbanded in 2001, Zedek (whose brother Dan Zedek is the design director of the Boston Globe, and plays in the sparky indie-rock quartet Field Day) has forged her own way to increasingly rich, absorbing ends. “Eve,” issued this month on Thrill Jockey, is the latest in an impressive string of Zedek ventures for that influential Chicago label. It’s not the only album she’ll release this year; a self-titled set from E, her wiry, kinetic trio with Neptune’s Jason Sanford and Karate’s Gavin McCarthy, is due Nov. 11, also on Thrill Jockey.
That trio polishes and hones the lacerating experimental-rock edge Zedek unsheathed in Live Skull, and before that in Uzi. But “Eve,” recorded with her working quintet, gives the best indication of where she’s been lately. From the first stirrings of “Afloat” — a twangy guitar line as relaxed as lived-in jeans, the viola a cat curling around your shin — she lays ground for songs that point obliquely yet surely toward self-awareness, acceptance without compromise or regret, finding one’s place in life, the universe, and everything.
“When the rain comes down, who will reach out and pull us up to higher ground?” Zedek ponders in “Afloat.” Here and elsewhere, the sentiments she ventures clearly are personal. But she omits specifics, leaving her words open to accommodate listeners’ needs.
Zedek’s voice, neither conventional nor wholly tamed, serves her ends potently, its warp and grain enhancing unvarnished solidity. Her band — violist David Michael Curry and pianist Mel Lederman, at her side since 2001, plus bassist Winston Braman and drummer Jonathan Ulman — shifts easily from a near-hush on “You Will Wake” to brawny display on “Northwest Branch.” Her guitar is accompanist and foil by turns, her spare, Stonesy solo on “Not Farewell” surely among her loveliest creations.
“There’s no shame in trying again/ Just don’t be too smart or too slow,” Zedek sings on “Try Again.” She continues, “You could find fame and lose it again/ But a quitter just gets what he deserves.” You get the feeling that quitting isn’t something Zedek’s likely to contemplate, in music or in any other sense.
The Thalia Zedek Band performs at Great Scott Sept. 1.Steve Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @nightafternight.