Thelma is the Brooklyn-based project of singer-songwriter Natasha Jacobs. She released her anxious, beautiful self-titled debut in 2017 and shortly afterwards discovered that she had both thyroid cancer and Ehlers-Danos syndrome (a genetic disorder affecting her joints), which respectively jeopardized her ability to sing and play guitar.
Over the past year, while undergoing treatment and learning to live with chronic pain, Jacobs recorded a new album, contemplating her body, disability, humor, pain and isolation. That album is called The Only Thing, and today, we’re sharing the first single from it, called “Take Me To Orlando.” As Jacobs explains, the song has a very cool literary namesake:
I wrote “Take Me To Orlando” while I was recovering from surgery and reading the book Orlando by Virginia Woolf. Orlando is somewhat of a love letter Virginia wrote to and about another writer, Vita Sackville-West. It is a very playful and romantic world that I escaped to for a bit in which illusion is a theme. One quote that stuck out was “Illusions are to the soul what atmosphere is to the earth. Roll up that tender air and the plant dies, the colour fades. The earth we walk on is a parched cinder. It is marl we tread and fiery cobbles scorch our feet. By the truth we are undone. Life is a dream. ‘Tis waking that kills us.” Although this quote makes a somewhat dangerous statement out of context, I do feel that the illusions we seek hold many important truths about who we are as people. With all this on the mind, while feeling very stuck and lonely during my recovery, I wrote a song about and for an imagined lover whom I named Orlando.
“Take Me To Orlando” retains all the haunting, weird, pretty elegance we loved on Thelma’s first album, which had hints of Joanna Newsom-like oddity and disharmony. Here, Jacobs leans into that impulse. She gives a tour de force vocal performance, whispering, shrieking, giggling and gasping. She both stretches the deep Sharon Van Etten/Angel Olsen belly of her voice and flirts with a girlish intimate, bedroom-pop murmur, a la Florist or Adult Mom, as she sings about an imaginary literary lover: “Honey you’re so real and you dance around fear/ And you tell me you love the ways that I make you feel/ And I’ll call you Orlando/ We don’t have to play roles unless it’s just for fun.” The song basks in the glow of that divine place of ease and non-judgement that two people can create between themselves: “‘Cause darling you are just who you are/ And you don’t make me feel like I’m the woman I am not.”
With its thespian ethos both in story and sound, thanks to plucking strings as well as the whirlwind vocals, it would sound perfectly at home on Miya Folick’s new album Premonitions. In many of the same ways Folick’s album was great, “Take Me To Orlando” is a gorgeous song: technically impressive, narratively immersive, tragically funny, and subtly dark, as I imagine the rest of The Only Thing will be as well.
Thelma will self-release The Only Thing on 2/22. Pre-order it here. You can catch her live at Trans-Pecos on 12/20.