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4.7 out of 5 stars
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4.7 out of 5 stars
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on 19 August 2003
Somewhere between a female Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, but with the voice of an angel (albeit a seriously pissed-off one), Thea Gilmore is currently Britain's best songwriter. And by a good few light years. "Avalanche" is her fifth album, and also her best, with Thea spitting vitriolic gobs of fire at the plasticity of modern culture and the resulting public apathy with fierce directness and an unflinching eye.
Developing the soundscapes of her earlier "St Luke's Summer" and "The Dirt Is Your Lover Now", Thea and producer-extrodinaire Nigel Stonier add a layer of loops and effects to her usual chiming guitars and deceptively catchy tunes. "Pirate Moon" and the haunting title track ring with a sinister, trottled beauty - fluid and graceful, yet shot through with a creeping menace.
"Mainstream", meanwhile, and "Rags & Bones" (probably the best song she's ever written) crackle with a barely-controlled rage, spiky and brutal as Thea goes for the throat. Then, sung in her most delicate, heartbreaking voice, "The Cracks" prophecises a forthcoming armageddon with more unflinching clarity of anything this side of "Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall".
This is potent stuff: a landscape where religion is obsolete ("Have You Heard?") and love a precarious thing ("Razor Valentine"); the young are listless and self-obsessed ("Juliet") and the media calculatingly enforce this ("Heads Will Roll").
However, if all this sounds rather depressing (and it is - this is real life, mate), Thea's level of passion, eloquence, anger and commitment mean that the songs are ultimately life-affirming and positive. This is real protest music for the 21st century, not the moany dirges of some jumped-up madam that are endlessly peddled elsewhere.
Indeed, amid the corporate mush that passes for pop-music today (and don't tell me Oasis isn't as carefully packaged as Will Young or Avril Lavigne isn't just Britney holding a guitar), finding such an inspired songwriter with something fundamentally important to say is remarkable. And that she does so with such eloquent lyrics and brilliant melodies is nothing short of miraculous.
"Are you gonna swim the mainstream/or are you gonna make like lightning?" she demands halfway through the album, in a flick-knife voice. But she has already made her decision. And what spellbinding lightning it is. No amount of superlatives do this album justice. Believe me, it's that good.
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on 4 February 2008
Finger on the pulse, me. Thought I'd discovered this album, this artist, all by myself. Bought the CD, listened, loved it, evangelised to my mates.

Then I looked at the date of release, discovered that it had been a radio 2 record of the week, and wondered just why it was that I hadn't been paying attention (though at 44, I still don't believe I'm old enough to be listening to radio 2).

So I come late to the party, and if you're one of those still unaware that it's going on then it's time to knock on the door and come in; you shan't regret it. An album not really of its time, so not one to be in or out of fashion. An album of influences, but not of slavish copying. An album of surface expression and a few grins at nice lines, but also of feeling, musical and lyrical articulation, and a lot of depth. I suspect there's been a lot of hard work and talent gone into making this sound effortless and off the cuff, yet be something that sticks around your head for days after you've played it.

I could go on about this track or that track, but you should buy the album and discover them for yourself without someone else's preconceived ideas to influence you. No really, you should. Trust me. I may have come late to this one, and so might you, but its well worth arriving.
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on 14 December 2003
Why bother recycling the superlatives - Thea Gilmore is clearly head and shoulders above her contemporaries. You could say I was swept along in the muted hype of internet and newspaper articles, but I have no post-purchase regrets whatsoever. This album is superbly crafted - both lyrically and musically - and yet in my opinion it isn't even Thea's finest hour. I've since discovered her earlier work. This girl is a prolific wordsmith and still maintains consistently high standards in her songwriting; it really is quite incredible.
There are minor criticisms - her vocal range could benefit from a little more flexibility, and a couple of tracks would work better as poems rather than songs.
At 23 years of age, with 5 self-penned albums and 1 sublime album of covers under her belt, Thea's canon is a formidable one! Why the hell had I never heard of Thea Gilmore before?
Signing off now before the avalanche of superlatives crashes through my keyboard. Can't recommend this highly enough!
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on 3 February 2004
Thea's music is awe inspiring and I love it. I am an american that has moved to the UK and I have never heard such raw talent and emotion from a song writer. Her music reachs out to you and grabs you..Her no bs sense of great style makes her a woman worth listening to..I have heard almost all of her Cd's and this one is hot..She has something that other artist just dont seem to have..There is a lot of heart in her music and a quirky sense of humor is found in some of her lyrics. Ever hear one of those songs where you think hey that was written just for me well Avalanche by Thea Gilmore is a whole Cd full of those types of songs. She is very worth the time to check her out and try her music something about her is bound to fit you..
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on 4 August 2003
Thea's latest album is easily a worthy successor to those that have gone before it. As one who was lucky enough to have a sneak peek at this album before the release date, I was already highly excited about hearing the latest view of the world from Thea, even before the amazing patchwork of musical colour hit my ears.
Avalanche is another emotional rollercoaster of an album from Thea. Neither the music nor the words shock the listener; each seems to function as a vehicle for the other with little conflict of interest. The only track which this reviewer's poor ear found difficult to appreciate was Pirate Moon, Track 6, and the stars of the album, along with the single Juliet (Keep That In Mind) are Razor Valentine and The Cracks.
Thea Gilmore ought to be a regular visitor to everyone's CD players, and Avalanche must surely be included - best Thea album yet? Maybe. Better yet to come? I hope so.
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on 29 September 2003
This is my first experience of Thea Gilmore - I bought the album after hearing just one track on the radio, and I think all the songs are brilliant. The music is so refreshingly different to most popular music, and Thea's moods come over so well with each song. There's melody, emotion, and some hauntingly good lyrics. Just brilliant!
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on 27 August 2015
The start of this review may seem a little strange as the first name to be mentioned is that of Sandy Denny. Why? Many of you younger music lovers may not have heard of Sandy, but many of us older folks believe her to have been one of Britain's greatest singer songwriters, who tragically died so young. There are books about her life, why not read one?

Some years ago Sandy was writin a new album, with words and, in many cases, whole songs written down on scraps of paper, but with no recordings to back them up. The Trustees of Sandy's Estate, including her daughter Georgia, got together with some of the experts who had worked with Sandy, to see if it would be possible to release an album of these unrecorded songs, but one huge problem was that no-one knew what the songs were supposed to sound like, and who on earth could do them justice? Eventually they decided to ask Thea Gilmore, a fan of Sandy's music, if she felt that she could take on the project. She agreed and thank goodness she did.

Being a great Sandy Denny fan, I bought the eventually released album, rather cleverly called 'Don't Stop Singing', released as being by Sandy Denny and Thea Gilmore. I had never heard of Thea Gilmore, and knew nothing about her. After hearing the album, however, I thought the whole thing was brilliant, and I could not think how anyone could have done it better. I therefore decided to buy a Thea Gilmore album, but which one? I liked the cover photo on Liejacker and was intrigued by the title. There are some lovely songs on there, and I wanted to hear more. I now have five of Thea's albums, and the more I listen to them the more amazed I am that I had never heard of her. Is Avalanche her best album, the worst, somewhere in the middle? I really find it very difficutt to say. I feel that all of the albums are really good, and are so different. I love her voice and her style of writing and singing. Each album has some songs I really like, and some which are not quite as strong.

If anyone, just like me, has never heard of Thea Gilmore, and has never heard any of her songs, then why not give her a try? I would suggest perhaps Liejacker, Avalanche or Regardless. Perhaps leave Murphy's Heart until you have heard one of the others.

I know this has turned into more of a review of Thea than Avalanche, but Thea fans will buy Avalanche anyway. This review in a way is intended to help those who love music and would perhaps just like something a little different. Of course this theory is flawed because, if you don't find Thea you will never read this review anyway. Reading other people's reviews has helped me a lot.
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There's perhaps little point in reviewing this album now - I'm twelve years late, after all - but I've been listening to it a lot recently and thought it worth saying what a superb piece of work it is.

Thea Gilmore is a superb songwriter and performer; it remains a mystery to me that she is still relatively little known. The material here is absolutely top class, I think. Gilmore's lyrics are intelligent, allusive and incredibly evocative, and she's musically magnificent. Songs like Have You Heard or Razor Valentine have the same extraordinary quality you find in Leonard Cohen's best work and she can write a beautiful ballad in God Knows or a singable hit in Juliet. She also comes up with songs which are uniquely brilliant and which I don't think could have been written by anyone else.

I once read this about the great physicist Richard Feynmann, written by another distinguished physicist: "With the work of most great physicists you think that if only I was ten times cleverer and worked solidly for years and years I might have come up with that. And then there are the magicians - and you know that however much cleverer you were and however long you worked at it, you could never manage what they did. Feynmann was a magician." Sometimes Thea Gilmore is a magician in the same way, as in the title track here, which is utterly original and quite spellbinding in its imagery, its music and its arrangement. Take this:
"There's a rumour
Dirty as a chimneystack
Quiet as roadkill
On the northbound carriageway"

Stunning. And then the meat of the message:
"Well, they sold you back your outrage
In a neat little shrink wrap and a beautiful face
And you think you've found your purpose
Well, they've been trailing the breadcrumbs
Of a water-tight case
So you're shouting, you're shouting softly
So no one can hear you and get the wrong idea"

I don't know of any song anywhere which better excoriates the way in which youthful rebellion is packaged, sanitised and marketed. There is genius at work here - and I don't use the word lightly.

I won't go on any further. This is a masterpiece - which you'll already know if you know Thea Gilmore's work. If you don't, then don't hesitate. You won't regret buying this.
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on 11 August 2003
Ok - a few things to declare. One: I really like Thea Gilmore's work - she must be my favourite non-great (not Dylan/Waits etc.)artist ever, I’d love to give this 5 stars, and I hope the album brings her the popular success she deserves. The second stems from the fact that this album does have a lot of electronics on it, which is quite a departure for Thea. So, two: I don't have problem with electronics (I listen to Radiohead), although you might think so after this.
Having cleared up any prejudices lurking in my closet, I'll get on with it. This album is a bit patchy. It has some excellent, vintage Thea songs some of which are certainly among the best she has ever recorded, but the spaces between seem to have been plastered with what seems to me like soporific filler. Lyrically, these ‘filler’ songs are up to the usual high Gilmore standard, with a lot of description of the natural world, and leafing through the lyrics booklet while I listened to the first song, I thought ‘that looks good’. Unfortunately these songs almost work better as poems (which I suspect is how they started out). This is where the electronics can be a problem. If Thea was singing these songs with just an acoustic guitar, she’d be forced to shift about her delivery, and find decent tunes for them, otherwise there’d be nothing. Unfortunately, the electronics on this album allow a moderately interesting background to be produced, while Thea lazily intones the lyrics somewhere in the middle, sounding half asleep, and getting lost in vocal effects (which are unfortunately needed so Thea’s voice doesn’t sound too out of place – effects are like lies – you need more and more to keep them going). If you can see past the expensive sounding rouge (excellent production from Nigel Stonier), these ‘filler’ songs sound like the cracks between the good songs. Without the electronics to tart these songs up, they’d never have made the cut (at least not as they are), and this would be a better album as a result. We’ve heard a lot of female singer-songwriters sound like this, and frankly, it’s boring. Songs like Mainstream are what have helped Thea stand out from the songwriting pack. Unfortunately this album seems to being shuffling her back into it, just when her chart success may be getting her some deserved attention.
This is not a bad album by any means, and I am being a bit stingy – for the good points see the other reviews (I only have so much space, and I’m in rant mode). Some of the songs are very good, the refreshing Mainstream and Heads Will Roll acting like Speed between the come-downs of the ‘filler’ songs. Maybe it’s a masterful track order, and like a previous reviewer said, takes the listener on a roller-coaster. Maybe; but for me this album has too many flat sections to take me on an emotional journey.
What worries me is that people may buy this album on the strength of the Juliet singles, and find themselves disappointed. If you’re one of those people, I’d recommend hearing Rules for Jokers, Songs from the Gutter or (if you can get it) Burning Dorothy first. They are all much more consistently good, and also (deep breath, which will go unelaborated…) more fun. If you’re already a Thea fan, this album is obviously a must. I’ve missed out Lipstick Conspiracies from that list, because I think it suffers from some of the same problems as Avalanche. Conspiracies contains some great songs at the beginning and the end, but suffers from a flabby middle which contains much looser songwriting (verses drag on, choruses aren’t very lively and the tunes aren’t too hot). Although Avalanche is a better album, more profound, and clearly benefiting from some extra years of living, I think the problems come from the same route. On Conspiracies Thea seemed to be exploring writing songs on a larger scale (longer verses etc.), and the instrumental sound was quite different to her debut. In Avalanche Thea is clearly experimenting with the keyboards, and in this more atmospheric world, in some of the songs sharp lyrics and tunes have given way to mood. After Avalanche, Thea=Enya seems a lot less ridiculous than it should do. All of Gilmore’s albums have Thea experimenting to an extent and I’d hate to pigeon-hole anything as ‘vintage Thea’, but many of the songs on this album are, to me, a couple of notches below par for Thea’s usually very high standard (I'd swap the Juliet b-sides for some of the songs on this album). I’m just hoping that a Rules for Jokers emerges from this Lipstick Conspiracies.
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VINE VOICEon 3 October 2011
A gem of an album, not a bad track on it. Moody, great lyrics, fine vocals, sympathetic backing - this album has it all.

Highlights, for me, are "Razor Valentine", a song that always features in her live shows, and the rocky "Heads Will Roll" but there are many more great songs here.

If you haven't heard Thea Gilmore before, I can't provide a better description than a previous reviewer's description: "Somewhere between a female Bob Dylan and Elvis Costello, but with the voice of an angel (albeit a seriously pissed-off one)"

"Razor Valentine", in particular, exhibits a strong Tom Waits influence, using a scratchy sound rather like an old 78 to great effect.

Well worth your money. And catch her live too, she's excellent and thoroughly unpredictable
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