Elizabeth Anka Vajagic – Nostalgia/Pain EP

Elizabeth Anka Vajagic
Nostalgia/Pain EP

In experimental music there is a fine line between eccentric brilliance and pretentious noise pollution. While many lay listeners wouldn’t hesitate to place the eerie, brooding sounds that fill Elizabeth Anka Vajagic’s EP Nostalgia/Pain in the latter category, this reviewer takes a somewhat gentler stance. Nostalgia/Pain is most certainly affected but does contain some engaging moments amid its half-hour-plus of anxious noises, yelps, and moans. Most importantly, Vajagic succeeds in setting a mood, and it is therefore not solely derisive but also potentially complimentary to label Nostalgia/Pain background music for witchcraft, suicide attempts, and cult-gatherings. For the well-adjusted connoisseur of popular music, Vajagic’s latest effort will fall on deaf ears, but for those who regularly – hell, even occasionally – find themselves participating in the aforementioned activities, Nostalgia/Pain could be damn near revelatory.

Nostalgia/Pain consists of three songs – “Nostalgia,” “Pain,” and “Beneath Quiet Mornings.” The opener, “Nostalgia,” is a 17-minute epic filled with the eerie, tense noises of a horror movie and Vajagic’s raw, piercing drawl. In some sense, it’s hard not to appreciate Vajagic’s unnerving determination to make music that is often difficult and painful – undoubtedly for both her and the listeners. While “Nostalgia” might make a winning score to a Hitchcock film, it’s a virtually insufferable listen on its own. When Vajagic sings “I want you to know, that I don’t hate you,” it’s awfully hard to believe her. Yet after surviving the painful experience that is “Nostalgia,” listeners are treated to a significantly less jarring, more melodic piece in “Pain.” Like “Nostalgia,” “Pain” slowly builds momentum and energy, and, midway through the song, pounding drums and frantic guitars create a ghostly majesty that bears an obvious resemblance to the sound of Joy Division. By comparison, the short finale, “Beneath Quiet Mornings,” feels subdued and chant-like, a veritable sample of what Tori Amos might sound like as a monk.

Rob Gordon, the protagonist in Nick Hornsby’s High Fidelity famously quipped, “Which came first – the music or the misery? Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable, or was I miserable because I listened to pop music?” While the question is delivered lightheartedly enough, if one replaces “pop music” with “Elizabeth Anka Vajagic’s latest EP,” it becomes thoroughly intriguing. Listening to the jarring, guttural, ominous sounds of Nostalgia/Pain would undoubtedly be painful for many. Yet, for that very reason, the misery probably came first for Vajagic’s listeners. It would take someone already suffering and in despair to stomach Vajagic’s visceral catharsis.