In her book Black Pearls, Daphne Duval Harrison identified the key themes of the blues genre, which included: death, Hell, injustice, love, men, murder, poverty, sadness, the supernatural, traveling, weariness, depression and disillusionment. On her second album Adia Victoria explores many of these ideas, filling the Silences with sometimes troubling but always intriguing music. For an artist like Victoria, the blues is not just history to be studied or a style to be replicated – it is the very lifeblood that simmers inside of her.
The album begins with menace and a murder. In fact it is God himself who she has killed and buried. The song, called Clean, fizzes like the soundtrack to a horror movie. When the song cuts out you can’t help but shiver. The eerie madness continues on Bring Her Back, where she sings from beyond the grave. She exposes the hypocrisy of religion and challenges the miserable finality of death. Victoria was raised in a strict Seventh-Day Adventist family, so the shadow of sin and hell lingers strong.
One of recurring characters on the album is the devil himself. He follows her as she tries to escape from the chokehold of her upbringing on Pacolet Road – a song which rocks out with suitable abandon. She later acknowledges The Devil is A Lie, but he’s a malevolent presence in her life all the same. Heathen embraces her supposed damnation with a nonchalant shrug. Along with the razor sharp Nice Folks, she uses these songs to condemn those judgemental hypocrites who don’t acknowledge their own culpability.
On Different Kind of Love she sings about various dalliances, questioning the meaning of love. Musically it’s confident and imposing, even if the lyrics lack the maniacal edge heard elsewhere. The Needle’s Eye takes a more disturbing turn, with its ‘beat me like a drum’ refrain. Poverty and the emptiness of existence are explored on Dope Queen Blues. We are lost in vain, she concludes. At least the blues gives her existential hopelessness a voice.
By the final song Get Lonely she accepts there’s nothing she can do to chase her demons away. Down I fall into a never ending shade of blue. All she can do is seek a companion to share in her despair. Her voice is softer and quieter than on the rest of the songs. I want to get lonely, with you, she admits. Maybe she’s speaking to a lover or even the listener, asking for a hand to hold as she falls into the never ending void.
Adia Victoria’s music drills down into that part of your soul which silently screams every second of the day. James Baldwin once said that the ‘anguish one finds in the blues, and the expression of it, creates also, however odd this may sound, a kind of joy.’ That paradox makes Silences an unsettling, but ultimately intoxicating listen.