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Ioanna Gika - Thalassa Music Album Reviews

The Io Echo singer’s debut solo album expands on the gothy, mythical undertones of her earlier work.

The music Ioanna Gika made as one half of dream-pop duo Io Echo was watery and celestial, her crooned vocals swimming through a pastiche of synth, koto harp, and violin. She and musical partner Leopold Ross dubbed their genre of music “New Orientalism,” donning kimonos in music videos and releasing songs titled “Shanghai Girls” and “Tiananmen Square.” The surface-level gesturing at pan-Asian culture was culturally insensitive, as well as a questionable musical choice: Mining influences without a clear purpose often led to songs that felt muddled and directionless.

Gika’s debut solo album, Thalassa, thankfully abandons the orientalizing and instead takes its name from a Greek goddess of the sea. Here, Gika expands on the gothy, mythical undertones of her earlier work, wisely foregrounding her strongest asset: her voice. At once delicate and looming, it establishes a gauzy eeriness that underscores wistful songs with lyrics about crumbling cities and rising seafoam. She wrote the album in Greece during “a period of familial grief and romantic dissolution,” and themes of loneliness and romantic strife provide a through line.

Throughout the album, Gika’s winding falsetto cuts through propulsive, pointillist production reminiscent of video game soundtracks or Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’ score for The Social Network. On highlights “Roseate” and “Out of Focus,” the juxtaposition of her voice against jabbing synths and staccato drums creates a thrill of dissonance and momentum, a surreal dream where molasses flows like water. Slower songs like “Swan” display her vocal dexterity, allowing her to pivot to a husky smoulder that adds emotional weight to lyrics like, “I'm in love here, but I don't belong.”

Gika’s music requires commitment to convincingly pull off. The baroque imagery of her lyrics gesture at grand sentiments—falling statutes, golden dawns, and headless ostriches symbolize unrequited love and burning longing. The arrangements swell and pulsate. Thalassa lacks the necessary conviction, particularly on its latter half. Gika is clearly experimenting, pasting together combinations of synths, strings, chimes, and vocals that evoke the searing darkness of Zola Jesus one minute and the meandering, layered instrumentals of Solange’s When I Get Home the next. This playfulness results in a diverse array of textures and lends the album a sense of potential. But because she never fully commits to one mood or genre, it is difficult to feel fully immersed. Gika’s songwriting is sometimes too vague to resonate emotionally, and her delivery, though gorgeous, never feels fully unencumbered.

There are certainly moments that get close. The layered vocals on the title track are lovely, and the droning repetition of “New Geometry” is magnetic. But, unlike its namesake deity, Thalassa never quite masters the ferocious power of crashing waves nor the beguiling, mysterious vastness of a calm sea.

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