Underground alt-rock luminary Thalia Zedek’s solo work has allowed her to explore the less harsh side of her songwriting and performance than her various bands have allowed. Yet both the title and cover of her latest suggests she is limbering up for battle.
Fighting Season’s artwork shows Zedek and her guitar, which sports a FCK NZS sticker echoing Woody Guthrie’s famed ‘This Machine Kills Fascists’ slogan. It indicates that although it may not be as abrasive or loud as some of her other work, she’s certainly aiming for something as potent as the music she’s made with Come and E.
The title track delves right into the fray with Zedek offering a pithy summation of the options on the table in a volatile political climate: “If you wanna run, then run/ If you wanna hide, then hide/ You wanna love, then love/ If you wanna fight, then fight.” They are of course choices we have always had, but they remain ours nonetheless, and Zedek seems to be making a case for their importance in terms of what side of history you want to be on.
The album consistently flits between the personal and the political. From Of The Unknown’s gorgeous cello backed musings (“but is the glue that binds us together just the fear of the unknown”) to War Not Won’s ambivalence, the line between internal struggles and collective turmoil often becomes blurred, or perhaps more accurately, intertwined.
The beautifully warm and naturalistic production brings these inherently intimate songs closer still. Ladder builds to a stormy swirl as the need for the proverbial apparatus becomes more urgent, and Tower lives up to its title as a soaring closer. Bend Again is furnished with a typically eloquent guitar solo (courtesy of a certain J Mascis) but, instrumentation aside, much of the music’s power is rooted in Zedek’s expressive vocal. With it she can turn on a dime, from mustering agonising vulnerability to hard-won resolve. The nuance in her voice perfectly complements the complexities of wrestling with division and unrest, be it that of the mind or those we see in the world.
Despite the implications of the title, Fighting Season is a record that favours tolerance over bitter insularity (“Keep your enemies by your side and in your arms).” It’s a message that should transcend its maker’s ‘alternative’ origins and is yet more proof that Thalia Zedek deserves the ears of many.