In 2017, Natasha Jacobs–a Brooklynite who performs as Thelma– released her self- titled debut. In the months that followed, she found herself in and out of doctors’ offices while her future as a musician hung in the balance—twice. Her first scare came with mysteriously painful & dislocating joints and the conclusion of surgery, where she lost most of her ability to play guitar. The second, the discovery of thyroid cancer threatened her voice. In time, it was finally discovered she has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a genetic disorder affecting joint form and function. With her primary instruments in jeopardy and ableist attitudes in the music industry thinning her patience while in recovery, Jacobs retooled the process for her second album while trying to reclaim her life while learning to live with chronic pain and physical limitations.
The Only Thing is more liberated, upbeat, and adventurous than its predecessor. Nine tracks are primarily constructed around burbling synthesizers, and Jacobs’ expressive vocals which find themselves vaulting for new territory. While still retaining her haunting vocal quality, there is a newfound playfulness even as she sings about trying times: a last ditch effort to find humor & lightness in a painful situation. Just look to the mystical “Sway,” one of the first tracks grappling with Jacobs’ desire to find hope for her own body. It begins as a sprawling dirge and explodes into a Technicolor palette of drum machines and whirling keys. Other songs such as “No Dancing Allowed” and “Never Complain” also speak explicitly about dealing with physical disability. Many moments on the album are split in half—given thoughtful, crawling beginnings before transfiguring into something grander and larger. It’s in this triumphant duality where Thelma separates harmony from horror, and peace from pain.
While cataloging the tumult from her past year, Jacobs also navigates love while experiencing a new shade of loneliness from the isolation that illness can bring. While dreaming of deeper connection, she escapes into the solace brief tender relationships can provide. The simmering “Take Me to Orlando” is an ode to an idealized shared self- confidence, where two people can be entirely accepting of one another, while the whispery longing of “Stephen” and confessions of “Stranger Love” find Natasha shamelessly dramatizing infatuation. All the while “Warm Guts,” a slice of psychedelia, finds Jacobs returning to guitar for a brief moment in order to tell the tale of a failed relationship. Here, she encourages both her listeners and her partner to “come as you are” while, expressing feeling misunderstood herself, as she repeats “my truest face still waits for you.” Thelma’s twin inward gaze prioritizes building a solid support system which will follow one’s path to better living at any age.
Perhaps the most telling moment of Thelma’s sophomore LP comes near its end. “Chosen Ones” is a driving song, not in its tempo or timbre, but its focus. As Jacobs’ vocals angle upward towards her trademark vibrato, the record’s boldest thesis also sails out: we all need to be brave for our inner child, because our we all need to need feel heard and cared about. The Only Thing is her first claim at marking her identity in the wake of critical change, and it’s fully on display: it’s fearless, mobile, and active. And that might be the bravest thing she can be.