ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON THE 405 (NOW DEFUNCT)
When I first listened to ‘Roseate’ at the end of last year, I knew immediately I had subjected myself to something special. As pastoral guitar strums detonate, giving way to undulating synthesizers, the sound of a staggeringly lamenting voice completely tranquilizes and washes over the listener. Exhaling the words, “Goodbye / In waves the message rang through the sea,” the lead single from Ioanna Gika’s debut LP titled Thalassa, twists and evolves with each lyric uttered.
The Greek-American songstress continues, “The pelicans froze in the air, they saw what was no longer there.” Like the cacophonous and unpredictable rhythms at hand, Roseate experiences the emotional ups and downs of a full-length film, but all packed within a five-minute time frame. This is just one song, and yet, each and every other track on Thalassa brims with a similar array of emotion and immensity that very few artists can convey.
Beginning with ‘Roseate’ to the last track, ‘Drifting’, Ioanna Gika’s mournful ethos is reflected through an onslaught of majestic arrangements and immersively grandeur production. Simply put, Thalassa displays a mastery of the always-expanding boundaries of art-pop, which has seen the likes of Bjork and Julia Holter spearhead the genre’s mysterious ways for years.
With this awe-inspiring debut, the Greek goddess barrows from her ethnic roots and wraps her personal grief around a singular theme/word—Thalassa, which translates "sea" in Greek and is the name for the primeval spirit of the sea. Aptly titled, the experiences Gika unravels in this record thrash and toil like a vast body of water during a storm, Written while she was staying in Greece, Thalassa documents a torment-filled time in Gika’s life—a period where turbulent family matters and a hopeless romance prevailed.
Considering Gika’s sorrowful circumstances and what the word “Thalassa” suggests, Gika’s album feels like an aqueous being whipping and receding like the ocean. It’s absolutely unhinged and surprises with waves of droning bass, delicate swathes of synth, and each note that Gika’s salient voice strikes.
Beneath the frigidly hued dreamscapes, all interspersed with warm memories of family and romantic love, this collection of songs bubbles with a cathartic ferocity. Though the tone of Gika’s voice is celestial and soft, its docile guise imprisons feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. According to Gika, “‘Thalassa' is about going through change that is unwanted yet unstoppable. It is a document of the dread, the adrenaline, and the surrender in the moments when you realize the only way to survive the wave is to brace yourself and go through." While Gika’s anguish is not evident through her words, further listening and a basic understanding of Gika’s back story makes this one of the most heartbreaking albums of the year.
Aside from her roots and pained life experiences, Gika, who is also one-half of the band Io Echo, pulls from a myriad of genres and bands. For one, the track ‘Messenger’ sees the singer veer slightly from the neo-classical leanings of ‘Out of Focus,’ ‘Weathervane’ and ‘Ammonite’ by perforating pensiveness with frantic programmed drums in a similar vein as Aphex Twin, all while still harkening the dreamy (or nightmarish) quality of Chelsea Wolfe. Though the second single lifted from the album, ‘Swan,’ does not differ entirely from the record’s overarching ambiance, it may very well be Gika’s most enrapturing offering yet. While soaring synthesizers and orchestral strings ascend and intertwine with fervor, Gika’s words communicate a sentiment that is contrastingly sadder. ‘Swan,’ according to Gika is about “the sinking feeling when you sense a relationship is coming to an end, but are powerless to stop it. You exist in this nebulous state, and can sense the change, but are met with silence.”
While this message is particularized for ‘Swan,’ one can easily say that the entirety of Thalassa is about Gika reconciling the silence she has faced as a result of tragedy. Thalassa, in fact, dismantles this emptiness, this silence. It’s full of rich vignettes that flourish with life, yet radiates with an emotive manifestation of pain. Though Thalassa does not capture the most positive of emotions, Gika reassures her listeners that sometimes feeling something—even anger and sadness—is better than feeling nothing.
THE 405 RATING: 8.5/10