Initially the solo project of songwriter Natasha Jacobs, Thelma are now fleshed out to a band by the addition of Daniel Siles, Maciej Lewandowski, and Juan Pablo Siles.
A tricky question as Thelma’s sound is remarkably hard to pin-down. Like Mothers or Sparklehorse, Thelma’s music seems to come from a folkish-background, but it is given a severe make over and comes out sounding equally in touch with jazz, dark electronica and even math rock. Instrumentally it’s equally diverse and minimal; generally led by guitars and vocals, with accompaniments coming from complex rhythms, textural electronics and on the eponymous closing track some remarkably effecting woodwinds.
Thelma are based out of Brooklyn, like most bands! Brooklyn was originally a farming village set up by Dutch settlers in the 1600’s, and was initially called Breuckelen meaning “Broken Land”. Brooklyn is now home to over 700 arts and cultural institutions, which would, along with the boroughs massive population, would go some way to explaining why it produces so many bands. Many of our favourite bands are from Brooklyn, including newcomers Lilah Larson, Imaginary Tricks and Sparrow, as well as the established ilks of Here We Go Magic, The Antlers and Grizzly Bear.
They say necessity is the mother of invention, but they shouldn’t forget the power of boredom. Natasha initially started to play music during a period of recovery after being injured in a “life-changing”, fall from a ladder. Thelma started two years ago, and the band recently released their self-titled debut album on the Carolina based label, Tiny Engines.
Discussing the inspiration behind Thelma, Natasha seems to focus in particular on one word: projection. Much of this album seems to be inspired by a desire to not be shaped by the gaze of others, and about fighting to be true to yourself. This a record of battling to be seen above the idealised image others create of you, a record of saying, no, I am not pure, I am not angelic, I am a human being laced with beautiful, fascinating flaws – as Natasha sings on the brilliantly titled Moxie, “experience made the one who you love”.
Thelma is an album that flows beautifully, particularly the way White Couches segues into the aforementioned Moxie, creating one beautifully evolving, eleven-minute opus. White Couches begins with a touch of Daughter, before the entrance of aggressive jolts of percussion, guitars with a propulsive, energetic quality, and Natasha’s versatile melodies, that see the vocal shift from swoops of sweet melody to contrastingly anxious, skittering yelps. As it flows into Moxie there’s a subtle shift, in both sonic textures and lyrical content; musically it seems to exist between the folky, vocal melodies of Pentangle and the grandiose Americana of Micah P.Hinson. Lyrically the shift seems to take Natasha from a place of confidence, “I know how to treat myself and a lover”, to a place of more anger, and resigned emotions, as she battles for ownership of her own life, noting, “you could not give me what was mine, you had to claim my body and my mind”.
Elsewhere Peach fuses layered vocals, lilting, complex rhythms and squalling synths into a track that, like Cross Record, perfectly juxtaposes beautiful melodies with jarring, primal pulses of disturbing musicianship. Spool is the confusing, but brilliant, middle ground of jazzy, math rock and a fairground organ; while the brilliant opening track, If You Let It, builds from a wonderfully atmospheric introduction via a delightfully skittering military drum-beat.
In an album of few lulls, the closing pair of tracks, Haha and Thelma, are particularly wonderful. Haha has all the vocal flexibility of Kate Bush, as Natasha’s voice swoops, soars and seems to pick unexpected and effecting melodies out of the air. It’s a wonderfully unnerving piece of songwriting particularly the almost play-ground humiliation of the layered, “ha-ha”, finale, the sound of internal anguish being laid directly to tape. While Thelma, is a stunning tribute to the album/band’s key muse. Whilst the details are left open to the listener’s imagination, we picture an ageing lady, who having slowly lost her friends and lovers, is happily slipping away, with, “not a drop of fear to join her best friend, such a shade of love hasn’t any end”. It’s full of gorgeous lyrical details, from Thelma’s, “hair of salt and pepper”, to her, “aged and crooked fingers”. It concludes as Natasha sings, “she’s a part of me forever”, it’s a wonderful send-off to an amazing sounding woman, and a perfect way to close an album.
It’s perhaps not the most approachable record, and one that requires an in-depth rather than a cursory listen, but give this record your time and slowly all the treasure will reveal themselves – and with that effort something glorious appears.
Thelma is out now via Tiny Engines. Click HERE for live dates and more details.