Thelma The Only Thing

[Self-Released; 2019]

Rating: 4.5/5

Styles: pathetic love songs
Others: Angel Olsen, Joanna Newsom, Lana Del Rey

How have you been distracting yourself lately? I’ve been compulsively online shopping for cute but totally unnecessary wardrobe accessories, taking bubble baths, nervously slamming cans of passionfruit La Croix, and playing Thelma’s The Only Thing on repeat.

Like all easily bingeable things, there’s something deeply familiar and habitual about Thelma’s music, like an evening sigh, a hard plop on a worn-out couch after a long, painful day of existing in this crushing now. Incidentally, Thelma makes music that sounds nice; it’s why The Only Thing has been my b.a.e. (before anything else) after work almost every day since I first heard it. Crucially, however, this is music that understands hurt without pulling it out of you.

It’s a shockingly bad joke that something this recognizable is titled The Only Thing. Of course, it isn’t though; self care is multifaceted, because occupational anxiety is a hydra. Ironically, as a panacea, it yields best results when consumed with other materials: boba tea, chocolate truffles, a new nail polish, passionfruit La Croix but poured into a wine glass. Maybe this is because focusing too heavily on its themes of loneliness, sickness, and pain would otherwise stir up a cavalcade of feelings we’re all constantly running from, or maybe we just need all that we can get. In any case, when she sighs:

“Your slightly crooked eyes just made me like you more
I want to see them contort with all the feelings
You said you want to feel but aren’t feeling
It’s beautiful, you want to know the full range of being
But for me, that’s very real and it’s what I’m running from”

“There’s a cold I’m always tryna break
That with ruthless health and lightness
I feel born again
Is this a host that I’ll be following
Without hope
‘Cause laughter makes my ribs get sore”

“Today, you looked your inner child in the eye
And you told her that she shouldn’t cry
But then I cried myself
For all the pain that she internalized
To make sense of those who couldn’t see
All of the beauty of a child
A child’s body should never be criticized”

it’s like she’s exhaling oxygen.

Thelma sings about crying in almost every song on The Only Thing, and maybe it’s because I’ve saved all of my crying for SOPHIE, but Thelma’s music has, for me, only ever provoked sounds of relief: that heavily aspirated glottal fricative people emit after taking a sip of a refreshing beverage, that ejective burst of laughter that escapes all at once AFTER a good ugly sob, and I am more than satisfied that some Thing like this exists, even if it isn’t the Only one.

Still, there is a power here, like a force field, that legitimates its singularity, centers it amidst a network of favorite things, at least for right now. Thelma is one of a host of “Chosen Ones,” equally confident and trembling, and I am grateful for her voice, for her participation in bringing something pretty and nice into this world. In Ben Levinson’s recent interview with Thelma, she admits to being inspired by “pathetic love songs” and Lana Del Rey, two things as equally maligned as they are feverishly consumed.

After a few months with it, though, what I truly find so indispensable about The Only One is its materiality, that amidst a carpet littered with permanent garbage possessed by ephemeral joy, it shyly whispers, “What if all of this can make whole?” For 31 minutes, it does, and that’s all there is to say about that.

Eureka!

Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

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