album review: thea gilmore – regardless

the shondes @ cat's cradle

Unless you hung out with a particular batch of Carleton College alums in the early aughts, and thus hung out with my badass friend Rosie, you might not know British singer/songwriter Thea Gilmore — you probably don’t, in fact. Rosie introduced me to Thea in 2003, with a copy of Loft Music — Thea’s excellent covers record — and tickets to see her, when I was living in Chicago. I have this vague notion that we lost the tickets sometime before the show and had to pay twice for it, but it was worth it; the vague notion doesn’t extend to even where that show was, but it was one of Chicago’s small dark intimate rooms, and I remember that Thea finished things off by stepping into the center of the audience and singing a cappella.

Regardless is many years removed from Loft Music, and from Rules for Jokers, an album that still remains in my top ten favorites all time; Regardless is an album that should have been a soundtrack for my 2013, but is instead an album that I didn’t hear until late December. It’s an album that makes me remember why I fell in love with Thea in the first place: sharp-tongued songs with easily wounded hearts, all surrounded by Thea’s silk-smooth voice and simple guitars. Regardless opens with a song that I think of in Thea’s signature style; it’s minor key and staccato-spit lyrics about patience and waiting things out, but there’s still some things to sing about. Everything in Thea Gilmore’s catalog is dark-edged and sultry, and even songs with hopeful titles like “This Is How You Find The Way” and lyrics about angels in the radio waves are lush with dark strings and phrases like downward bound and no one can save me now.

The title track is full of hope, and a heavy piano line: i’ll be here, oh i’ll be here regardless. It’s a story of broken hearts and survival, and reconnection; it’s a song that I really, really relate to right now. This record is about love beyond odds, and the title track, with its major key and its simple melody and uplifting chorus, is the heart of it. “Spit and Shine” is a song that echoes its title in its sound, with echoing synthesizers punctuating Thea’s angry-resigned lyrics and delivery. Regardless feels like such a love album, an album about the way we hurt each other and make it up to each other. “I Will Not Disappoint You” is a promise that’s made to be broken, because we always disappoint the people we love, the people who love us. But we still try: but you know me / heart like a bomb / i love you like a song / i’ll be the one / i will not disappoint you.

we’re going to start by aiming higher
we’re going to start by naming names

“Start As We Mean To Go On” is one of the heartbeats of the record, with Thea’s laugh barely hidden underneath her unrelenting vocals. You can hear the smile in her delivery, the conviction of the title and the lyrics delivered through a silver-tongued singer. “Punctuation” is lush with strings, and a dark creeping edge in the story of God managing a couples’ counseling session between Adam and Eve; it sounds quiet and ominous even when the lyrics pluck out a moment of humor. “Love Came Looking For Me” is just as its title says.

“My Friend Goodbye” is a great closer; I judge a lot of albums on how they end, with a bang or with a whimper (and I don’t mean the sound of the track), with how the last track wraps everything up. “My Friend Goodbye” is quiet and playful, playing on the phrase itself — saying goodbye to a friend, or the phrase goodbye itself as a friend, something close to one’s heart. As an album closer, it wraps up the themes, closes the raging with peace, and fades out quietly. It’s perfect.

Thea Gilmore isn’t well-known in the States, and I think that should change. Regardless, a truly strong album from start to finish, is, I hope, the album that brings her to everyone’s attention.

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