Ziemba, “Unsubtle Magic”
By Matt Mitchell · December 09, 2021

Unsubtle Magic, the new project from El Paso journalist and musician René Kladzyk, aka Ziemba, is an elegiac Christmas album about her father’s death in 2020. Kladzyk centers herself here, in the vacuum of holiday season grief, using piano ballads and dream-pop vocals to navigate through transmissions of what emotions endure after a tempest of loss.

On psychedelic yacht-rock track “Fear,” Kladzyk meditates on the depression that undercut her grieving process; the sparseness of “Gushing Water” releases vivid imagery of cemeteries and leaky hospital room faucets. “Only Lonely Christmas” details Unsubtle Magic’s protagonist watching a loved one die while the rest of the world sleeps. Centerpiece “Set in Ice” was originally penned by her father in December 1974, and Kladzyk gives it an airy post-punk makeover to match the skeletal, haunted feeling of the album. With harmonies akin to The Association’s baroque pop and Cocteau Twins’ Heaven Or Las Vegas, Kladzyk’s vision imagines parenthood in absentia. “I don’t surrender to this life!” she cries out on “Time Doesn’t Freeze.” Unsubtle Magic is not a plea to somehow turn back time and save the person you care about; it’s a manifesto for how to grapple with not having them in the present.

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