Ziemba – Hope Is Never (4 stars)

Euphoric, alienating and devasting debut from Brooklyn-based performance artist

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Ziemba – Hope Is Never

Ziemba, aka René Kladzyk, is a Brooklyn-based performance artist and space-pop diviner, whose songs have been featured on Comedy Central’s brilliant cult hit show, Broad City. Her cheerily-titled debut album, Hope Is Never, is by turns euphoric, alienating and devastating, and it’s always quietly enthralling. It is, she says, ‘about nostalgia and memory, the way to conceive of death as that thing that connects us to eternity or the infinite’. Well, that and tiger women, seals and fires and buffalos.

Kladzyk’s peripatetic CV spans visual art, music and dance – she’s been artist-in-residence at the French Institute and Culture Vultures in Fez, Morocco; she’s composed for ballet companies and installations – and her esoteric pop is similarly varied in style and form. From the necromancing kosmische thrills of album standout ‘El Paso’, through the spectral, xx-conjuring chimes of ‘Phantom See’, to the bounding, feral 80s pop of ‘Tiger Woman’, her music spans decades, genres and elements (‘I am a fire’, she intones on balmy-rock mantra, ‘Hope is a Fold’).

Her music taps into the power of slow-builds – in vocals, textures, moods – as exemplified in the album’s striking salutation, ‘It Curls Itself’. An a cappella madrigal that’s minimalist and beautiful, the song variously deploys Kladzyk’s voice as pulsing bass-line and airborne chorister, charting earthly highs and lows, and defying the very gravity she sings about.

In an album that is haunted by what is there and what is not (and what has gone before), the arrangements feel particularly well-attuned: they’re cardinal, dramatic but never intrusive – sometimes ghostly, sometimes all-embracing – thanks to drummer Rob Smith (of Thrill Jockey’s Rhyton), bassist Jimy SeiTang (of Sacred Bones’ Psychic Ills), guitarist Christian Sawyer, cellist Valerie Kuehne and violinist Natalia Steinbach. And, at the heart of it all, there is Ziemba: courting loss and (sometimes) hope.

Out now on Lo & Behold.

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