Review Summary: A new age blessed by the ocean.
In the cold of the night, Ioanna Gika sits on a cliff facing the raging sea. As waves splash the Greek coast, the moonlight draws a bridge to the horizon. It's a time for mourning. The passing of her father has beckoned her home to Greece, to her mother's house. It's the place where she would tell the ocean about her loss and the birth bed where her first album, Thalassa
, would be given life in return.
It's no surprise that Thalassa
means "Sea" in Greek. Many artists go through a whole career before tracing back to their roots, drawn by age and exhaustion. In the case of Ioanna Gika, her roots are what have made her create this album as a starting point for something new, but equally frightening and confusing. The sea that bathes her parent's homeland has served as inspiration for this turning point in her life, not only lyrically but also for her music, as the profound and vast sound of Thalassa
Formerly of dark pop duo IO Echo, the Greek-American artist has shared the bill with an impressive list of artists. Trent Reznor chose them as the opening act for NIN following the release of Ministry of Love
in 2013, the project's one and only full-length, which was followed only by a slow drip of singles some years after. You could say that Thalassa
carries some of the sound of IO Echo. Her powerful singing mostly, which resonates with even more majesty on this, her first solo work. In contrast with the subdued, hazy and hardened style of IO Echo, Gika's voice becomes the driving force in Thalassa
, while guitars and drums are replaced by unwavering synths and playful drumbeats reminiscent of Bjork's past collaborations with the likes of Matmos and Mark Bell.
The Icelandic diva may be one fair comparison to Ioanna Gika's material, although Gika prefers to immerse herself beyond the realms of electro-pop and into the unfathomable depths of new age in cuts like title track "Thalassa", or in the spacey ballad and single "Swan". There is a dark, pensive tone that reigns over the album. I wouldn't talk about grief as much as I would of catharsis. This is a hereafter for the artist, as she reflects in "Messenger", where the harsh reality after her father's passing surfaces in the earthliest of ways: "No more pension for mother, Or my stepdad
". Ioanna comes and goes from reality to her own safe place like the tide. "Out of Focus" and closer "Drifting" will remind you of that time when Chelsea Wolfe faced the abyss, her ghostly voice entangled in a myriad of synths echoing in the solacing dark.
There are other times where Thalassa
becomes something more familiar, less fascinating or enthralling. "Weathervane" and "New Geometry", placed in the middle, bring the album to a place where Gika's songwriting feels more defined and less spectacular, as opposed to the indisputable highlight of the album, the opening track "Roseate". It is in this song where her strengths as a songwriter shine. Gika manages to turn something that sounds like a Cranberries passage into a new wave anthem that explodes in some sort of new age ecstasy driven by a furious arrangement of drum pads and blasting samples. "No Matter What" comes a close second, with one of the best sing-along moments of the album, while "Ammonite" is probably the best example of what the artist can achieve as a producer.
is an ambient pop wonder. An album that feels like floating in the vast darkness of the ocean on a starless night. It's a remarkable starting point for her, if that is what the artist intends but, even if it would just be an isolated moment in time and place where her sorrow needed a catalyst, Thalassa
will remain as a special album for Ioanna Gika and for those connected to her through something as humanly bonding as her connection to the sea, and to her home.