2019 Music Reviews

Album Review: Ioanna Gika ‘Thalassa’

“Can I bathe within your warm dimension? A floating hope in wild seas, at peace with what I can’t quite be.”

Ioanna Gika — “Ammonite”

Io Echo’s debut album Ministry of Love was among my top 10 favorite new releases of 2013. The duo of Ioanna Gika and Leopold Ross offered exquisite songwriting, made even more appealing by Gika’s poetic lyrics and gossamer vocals. In 2014, Io Echo released an EP (the cleverly titled I’ve Been Vaping Your Tears), which was followed by a terrific single (“Harm) in 2017, but a full-length sophomore release remained elusive.

When singer Gika announced that she was releasing a solo album in 2019, it was, pardon the pun, music to my ears. The result, Thalassa, is astonishing. Gika’s vocals have become more assured and enchanting with the passing of time and her lyrics even more insightful. Graceful guitars and ethereal synthesizers are contrasted with stark, electronic percussion; the resulting mixture is both stimulating and sobering.

For example, the opening track “Roseate” describes the narrator’s inability (or unwillingness) to let go of the past. Finger-picked guitar and Gika’s piercing vocals dominate the track, until a heavy synth beat enters the fray. The song’s shuffling drumbeat is replaced by persistent, mechanical percussion right as she sings the following verse: “Then I saw a crack in the wall / A sign, the flaw that let in a new light / As new machines came into sight.” Such impeccable synthesis of lyric and instrumentation is extraordinary, not unlike the titular character of the album. Thalassa is named for the primordial goddess of the sea.

It seems entirely appropriate, then, that Gika’s lyrics include mention of not only various species of ocean birds (pelicans, cranes, herons, swans and the Roseate Spoonbill) but also the line dividing the ocean and the earth. This line is as ever-changing as the tide itself and it’s this liminal quality which saturates the entire album.

“Swan,” the album’s second single, is a graceful yet mournful tune. Lines like “Frozen memory captured our love perfectly / But ice in hand won’t last / Longing for the past” is an excellent example of the aforementioned liminality, the irony being that while the memories of love may be frozen, the love itself will disappear. Such an idea is reinforced by the lyric “I’m in love here but I don’t belong / I can touch you but I can’t hold on.” “Swan” also references the myth of the “swan song.”

In this case, the swan song is the “melody of mourning” that comes before the end of a relationship. Yet, Thalassa feels less like a break-up album than one which details the slow, inexorable death of love and how it causes people to question everything they thought they knew to be true. “Weather Vane” searches for explanations in unexplainable events (“Did I love you too much? / Or never quite enough”) while “New Geometry” finds its explanations in the very lack of them (“In your hesitation / Well I found the answer”).

Thalassa’s final track, the painfully pretty “Drifting,” cuts through to the heart of what is truly at stake when love dies. The music shifts from ebullient to elegiac and back again as Gika sings: “All the constellations, everything I had in you / If I lose you, will I lose myself, too?”

There were six years between Ministry of Love and Thalassa. In the interim, Ioanna Gika has evolved from a promising artist to a fully-fledged talent to be reckoned with. Her uncommon, authentic voice has been sorely missed; it’s good to have her back.

Thalassa was released on April 5 by Sargent House.

Leslie Hatton (@popshifter) is a Fannibal, an animal lover, a music maven and a horror movie junkie. She created and managed Popshifter from 2007 – 2017, and also contributes to Biff Bam Pop, Diabolique Magazine, Everything Is Scary, Modern Horrors, Rue Morgue and more.