Some artists feel their work like some people feel a bullet to the sternum. When they wail their words, it sounds as if someone is removing a stillborn child from their womb. Such an artist doesn't appeal to everyone, especially on initial listens. There are so many others that sound like they mean it, but it's faked for effect. It takes a few times to discern the sincerity of the emotion behind the music. This was the case with Elizabeth Anka Vajagic. The first time I heard her, I was not impressed, but was intrigued. I listened a few more times and it hit me: this girl is putting her soul into this music unlike anything I've heard in awhile. Her voice sounds like someone who has been pulled from the earth kicking and screaming; it's deep, dark, and dirty.
The intimacy on the opening opus, "With Hopes Lost," is something that not even Houdini could fake. Vajagic does more than just sing the lyrics; she hurls them like arrows. Each word pierces the skin and hurts like hell. It's an unreal listening experience. She doesn't sing from the surface or just from her throat; her voice emanates from the pit of her stomach. It bellows when unleashed and could knock down buildings. As she tears through the chorus, "Let it go now before your hopes get lost," it's almost too much. Instrumentation wise, it complements her voice and her lyrics perfectly. Her back-up band consists of many of the usual suspects in the Montreal scene, and includes the seemingly omnipresent Efrim Menuck. The music is loose and feels like something that would be heard in a drab, smoky bar with sticky hardwood floors and an angry, one-eyed bartender. It's a Tom Waits tale come to life.
Sometimes, though, it is too much. As she casually runs through the line "I saw your face when you killed yourself" over and over again on "Where You Wonder," it just doesn't seem quite right. But that's the point. It's over the top for a reason. When you write songs about suffering, sometimes it takes a lot to get across what you're trying to say. While the band builds into a full-fledged jam midway through, she belts out the line "I will dream with you again." As she holds the last gasp of the word "again" for a few extra seconds, all hell breaks lose. It's like the moment a person's soul leaves their body after death; this song shoots straight out of the ground and into the sky. I give the Godspeed crew a lot of credit for their work on this album. In a setting like this, it could easily come off as awful and pretentious, but everything on this record works together like clockwork.
More tracks like the closer, "Sleep With Dried Up Tears," would have been welcome. In a dark room with all the curtains pulled and nothing but a single candle to provide light, she plays her acoustic guitar and sings through the haze of cigarette smoke. "I sleep alone and I rock alone," she sings. In such a stark song, the words hold a great deal of power. It's on this track that Vajagic shows her real talent as a songwriter. The range of her vocals is obvious after track one, but with a full band backing her, it's never quite obvious what she's capable of on her own. With this track, we know. The muted production of the guitar and the slight distortion on her vocals as they overdrive the microphone are perfect accents; they hint at how alone she really feels. It's a beautiful, affecting track.
Vajagic is an artist in every sense of the word. She's able to paint pictures with her unique, tenor voice and give life to words that could easily come off as a sham. The cover depicts an old, stone, female statue looking on with melancholy eyes. Peering off endlessly into space, the statue looks like it has absorbed every ounce of pain that's happened before its eyes, unable to turn its head. Vajagic sounds like this statue looks. Everything she's ever seen, heard, and read about has made such a terrible, lasting impact on her. This is emotional music like it should be. This is what someone who actually feels the words they sing sounds like. 7/10 -- Brad Rose (25 May, 2005)