Wait a minute this album came out 27 years ago? It’s hard to believe, since Don’t Ask Don’t Tell seems to have defied aging, probably due its unvarnished grittiness and its sober take on life’s unending series of traumatic events. What Thalia Zedek, Chris Brokaw, Sean O’Brien and Arthur Johnson laid down on these 10 tracks was a savage exercise in stripping the veneer of this life away while presenting the brutal truth. Track after track, Thalia’s caustic vocals convey a road weariness, coupled with a defiant, take-no-prisoners posture that suits the albums emotional intensity to a T. Chris Brokaw’s seething guitar lines, create a stormy sea of bluesy reverb, that swirl around you adding a dramatic intensity that alone would be enough to knock you over, but mated with Thalia’s potent vocals, the effects are simply devastating.
I remember when I first heard this album, it was on a ferry heading home to Lantau Island in Hong Kong. With the city’s skyline fading in the foggy distance and a stiff sea breeze blowing, opening track “Finish Line” felt like a gut punch with its menacing guitar line, and its pummeling drums. Thalia’s vocals lead us to the brink and back again on this emotional master stroke of an opener. Every time I hear this song I feel as if I’m witnessing a relationship melting down right before my eyes. “Mercury Falls” captures the bleakness of a Boston winter, the intense loneliness that accompanies it and yet, believe it or not, there is hope. Hope in the form of Thalia’s trauma filled vocals that evoke a triumphant spirit. It’s about fighting back the tears and soldiering on no matter the emotional toll. “Yr Reign” with the lyric “I’m gonna stab you a letter just like you do to me” is emotionally enhanced by Chris Brokaw’s turbulent squalls and the rhythm sections menacing gallop. These first three songs are about as stunning a grouping as you’ll find on a record and always leave me devastated as well as a bit nostalgic. In fact while this record has accompanied me around the world and through some very difficult times, it has never waned in its importance or resonance. It may remind me of “bad times” in my life but it also gave me an inner strength to let the storms pass and find a way forward. Hopefully within these grooves you’ll find something similar.
(Fire records has also assembled for this amazing reissue an LP’s worth of B-sides, live tracks, the bands first single as well as it’s final recorded track including an amazing cover of The Swell Maps’ “Loin of The Surf”. I have included a video that I shot a few years back of the band in Brooklyn playing the track “Submerge” which is also included on the bonus LP.)
Jonathan Levitt -October 29, 2021- 5/5 stars
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