Elizabeth Anka Vajagic
Ahhh the spooky gothic woman. What more resilient flower is there than the darkest rose in the bouquet? The nearest big city to me is New Orleans, and, despite the summer heat being aptly described as "like stepping into someones mouth," you can, at all times of the year, trot down to the fertile crescent and see an inordinate number of heavily befrocked maiden, with severe makeup, that brown-purple hair color and clunky shoes, hanging out in their own personal shadows with a cadre of skittish ambi-sexual men doin' their thing. What that thing is, besides drugs and talking about going places but never going, I'm not sure, but anyone whose willing to engage in a lifestyle that requires a costume, I salute your endeavours. And truth be told, I have some closeted goth tendencies, which sit sideline with my hippie tendencies. I have it in my head that black clothes look good on me, even though they clearly don't, and have a decided chubby for spooky, languid music on occassion.
Music is the tie that bindeth the goth hearts together, but that music for the greater part misses the mark. Its cartoonish, grumbling, half-faux-disco, half faux-metal without ever getting the juice flowing, which is what makes both those genres work. Thankfully, there is a new breed of intelligent artful gothic-leaning music to scratch that infernal itch, so we need not feel compelled to listen to another goddamn Diamanda Galas operetta or Step-sister of Mercy ever again to get our gloom on. Michael Gira's The Angels of Light is one that creates that menacing ambiance, as does the EP I just received from Quebecois spectress Elizabeth Anka Vajagic.
Nostalgia/Pain consists of 2 long tracks, plus a shorter home recorded gem, that tackle the very subjects in the name with dreamlike scope and devastating effect. We begin here with 16 minutes of "Nostalgia" (but don't we always?), opening with a sickly violin conjuring up the past in the form of droning electronics and errant percussion. It moves in slowly like a fog,with the gentle reverbed torch theme and her formidable breathy then howling voice. Vajagic conjures many of the same vocal elements of a young Patti Smith, but with a more resonant tone. Her screeches and moans here act as yet another expressive instrument in this long-form exposition of memory and loss. The song aptly peters out in a malevolent clatter of orchestral percussion, electric sputter of guitar pluckings and that same hoarse violin. Not for the weak of spirit, but also not reserved for the fan of difficult music.
"Pain" here is a more song-like affair starting with a languid guitar melody. At the onset, Vajagic adopts an expressive torchy tone imploring
Do you need pain to guide you to what you want?
I can't stand you, I need more
the current running through many a less-functional relationship. The sad state of affairs is further underscored by a long passage of lonely guitar and subtle drum work, tolling like dark bells over this darkened landscape. Often exaggerated length (this track running past the 12 minute mark) is the deal killer on stuff like this, but the glacial progression of the various elements and cinematic scope (a common trait for material coming from the Constellation label) make this a magnificent piece of music.
The exquisitely packaged disc closes with the shorter "Beneath Quiet Mornings" that seems to condense a lot of the elements found in the other two pieces into a more cohesive song without sacrificing any of the mystery or majesty. I think it goes without saying that the 35 minutes you spend with this EP are likely to not be the brightest parts of your day, but if the hornet's nest in your skull is like mine, this is one enthralling, recharging listen, a slow raft trip on your personal Styx, pulling back to shore before you've gone too far.
Alex V. Cook listens to everything and writes about most of it. His latest book, the snappily titled Louisiana Saturday Night: Looking for a Good Time in South Louisiana's Juke Joints, Honky-Tonks, and Dance Halls is an odyssey from the backwoods bars and small-town dives to the swampside dance halls and converted clapboard barns of a Louisiana Saturday Night. Don't leave Heathrow without it. His first book Darkness Racket and Twang is available from SideCartel. The full effect can be had at alex v cook.com