Album of the Day, Thelma, “Thelma”

On Thelma, songwriter Natasha Jacobs impishly spins the virgin/whore dichotomy round like cotton candy, both embracing and discarding the duality before landing a place free of self-judgement. She extends that grace both to herself and then to the listener throughout her band’s self-titled LP. Each song is a conversation, although it’s unclear whether Jacobs is talking herself, a lover, or to us.

This is part of the record’s essential charm—the uncertainty creates a funhouse of mirrors that face both outside and in. On opener “If You Let It,” Jacobs chants “You deserve more” over and over; she could be coaching a distraught listener, but she could also be repeating a mantra to herself—one of those intimate fantasy conversations you rehearse in your mind in order to steel yourself for the real thing. Like the High Priestess tarot card, Jacob’s conceals knowledge, leaving the answer up for interpretation.

Taken altogether, Thelma is about embracing the beauty and freedom of Jacobs’ own impurity, like when she declares that she “can’t sit on your white couches tonight” or teases a lover for believing she’s a “peach/ to be plucked from the wing of the tree/ ripened and ready to be consumed.” On that song, she’s a bitch, she’s a lover, etc. etc.

The songs on Thelma could fit neatly into the folk singer-songwriter tradition, but the structures are unusual, meandering melodically, augmented by vocal yips and yelps that punctuate Jacobs’ observations—call it the Newsom effect. She also employs various guitar tones and added electronic elements, a la Beth Orton, which give depth to her unusual compositions.

Unlike much of the singer-songwriter canon, Thelma is unapologetically epic and self-aggrandizing. ”Don’t let my moxie embitter your tongue,” she sings playfully on “Moxie,” a declaration of pride in her own impropriety.  Later, she sings, ”You could not give me what was mine/ Had to free my body and my mind,” as the song builds up gradually behind her, almost as if she’s ascending a grand staircase, rising above the disdain of anyone would have her hold her tongue and deny herself pleasure. “Experience made the one that you love,” she chides.

Jacobs excels at clever wordplay and metaphors too intimidating to be cutesy: “This thread between us/ I can’t wind through the spool/like the knot’s caught,” she sings on “Spool,” an ode to a recalcitrant lover who can’t (or won’t) keep up. With her spritely mix of humor, passion, and unexpectedly mischievous approach to songwriting, Jacobs has created an exceptionally generous, unselfish record, an invitation to revel in its lightness of being.

Mariana Timony 

%d bloggers like this: