On the cover of Fighting Season, Thalia Zedek is holding an electric guitar that features a large sticker reading "FCK NZS." In 2018, no one should be surprised by the notion of an established underground artist making a strong political statement, and Zedek, of Jewish heritage and an out lesbian of long standing, seems fittingly troubled by the political and cultural divides of the Trump era. In the press materials for Fighting Season, Zedek says the album was primarily written in the months before the 2016 presidential election. Many of its songs speak of a growing dread in a world where lines have been drawn in the sand, rather than the specifics of what has happened in the wake of Trump taking office. As a consequence, Fighting Season is an album that feels less like an act of protest (though it certainly is one) than a statement of resistance, fixed in the present but with an awareness that the roots of our current malaise stem from problems that are in no way new. In "Of the Unknown," Zedek sings, "If we separated/Which half of us would have to go?/The half that couldn't bother/The half that always held out hope/That we'd never be forgotten," and it's hardly the only moment where she acknowledges that we don't live in a time of easy answers, often using combat as a metaphor. Zedek's vocals, subtly passionate and sometimes suggesting a more plainspoken Patti Smith, are some of the best of her career, full of force but making room for vulnerability. Like much of her work under the Thalia Zedek Band banner, Fighting Season is less ferocious than the music she made with Uzi and Come, but it's similarly intense, as David Michael Curry's viola and Mel Lederman's piano add rich textures that complement Zedek's guitar work, and Winston Braman's bass and Jonathan Ulman's drums are suitably dynamic, sometimes stealthy and sometimes explosive. And though Zedek is an estimable guitarist, the contributions from J Mascis (of Dinosaur Jr.) and Chris Brokaw (Zedek's former bandmate in Come) add strength to strength. Created in a time of turmoil, Fighting Season is an album that always reflects the era that informed it, and while Thalia Zedek never pretends to have all the answers, her musings are brave, literate, and full of heart, and this is an important statement from an important artist.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming