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'Thalassa' is the debut solo album by Ioanna Gika. A new name on me but, reading the press blurb, she’s been active as a musician for a while. A member of US outfit Io Echo, who’ve had some rather tasty support slots in the past, including Nine Inch Nails and Jon Hopkins, she’s also composed/recorded songs for movies, including ‘Death Note’ and ‘Snow White and the Huntsman’. And, with blurb describing her music as containing elements of “Weyes Blood's dark folk, the ethereal unholiness of Myrkur and the intense electronic heaviness of Zola Jesus”, my listening appetite was well and truly whetted. However, receiving 60+ new album promos each and every week for review consideration, and most with overzealous lauding and all kinds of name-dropping boasts, you learn to become sceptical and immune to the bloated commendations, until such time the music you listen to actually lives up to the hype. Could this American-Greek musician’s solo debut really deliver on all this promise? In a word, yep. ‘Thalassa’ is incredible.

Thematically, Gika has described the album as predominantly being about change; “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.” The music reflects the theme perfectly, I must say. She’s created some deeply moving soundscapes that are awash with cathartic-fuelled melancholy, but coloured with the ever-burning flame of optimism. Despair, anxiety, dread and sadness are there to be heard, but with the overriding feeling that all hope is not lost. There’s light here, amidst the darkness, and it’s the contrast between the two where the album’s profundity of emotions resides. Deeply, I must say. This one runs emotionally deep throughout… at least, that was my experience in how I connected with the music.

Instrumentations are ostensibly minimalist at times, although listening to the layers reveal many hidden depths. And the compositions are refreshingly unpredictable. All kinds of programmed percussion offer up rhythmic twists and turns, although the swirling, wispy instrumentations (keys, Koto harp, guitar, etc); reverb-drenched sounds; distinct, strong melodies; and the contrast between passages of gentle ambience and layer-heavy power provide their own sense of unpredictability. And then there’s Gika’s voice, which has both a fragility and confidence throughout. Emotional tumultuousness, for sure, but also with a discernible fortitude.

Glancing at her Facebook page, I admire the way Gika opts to describe her genre simply as ‘self-produced’. Respect. Sure, the album was largely produced by her own hand, but this is also her own personal musical journey; one not tainted, (mis)directed, or dictated by any kind of genre affiliation. ‘Thalassa’ sounds every bit as personal and sincere as the blurb would have you believe. Enjoy it for precisely what it is, and free from stylistic expectations and vacuous pigeonholing. This is music to be experienced purely for the emotional affects it offers. This is art.
Sargent House
Review by Mark Holmes
5th April 2019
1) Roseate
2) Out of Focus
3) Thalassa
4) Messenger
5) Swan
6) Weathervane
7) New Geometry
8) No Matter What
9) Ammonite
10) Drifting
"...some deeply moving soundscapes that are awash with cathartic-fuelled melancholy, but coloured with the ever-burning flame of optimism."