Having previously recorded with her band Holy Gifts, Dominique Diglio’s first album under her own name is a collection of meditative yet raw musical offerings—equally inspired by freak folk, Arthur Russell, and world spiritual music. Songs for Tāra is an enticing act of musical surrender.
Dedicated to Tāra, the divine feminine of Tibetan Buddhism known as “the Mother of All Buddhas,” these songs strive for peace in the tumultuous present, where contemplation is far from easy to achieve. They are documents of enlightenment in everyday struggle, rippling with the atmosphere of the 200-year-old Philadelphia mansion where Diglio wrote and recorded them alongside collaborator Mike Davis. On Side A, Diglio’s lyrics paint scenes of the inner life that are full odd, expressive detail: “A skull cup, a tea bowl,” she muses on the opener, “And the broken statue told me: listen for your reflection.” That contradiction is one of many, as Diglio searches for spiritual truth in the material world; she layers challenging images and unexpected phrases onto coruscating arrangements, wrestling with the worldly problems of self, romantic disappointment, gender identity, and “how to live without the shades drawn.” Despite its title, the centerpiece track “Birthday Song” records death of a kind, the disappearance of a previous, masculine self and the emergence of something new: “You looked so good,” she sings, “when you knew he died.” Side B pushes these explorations beyond language, entering into a zone of contemplative immediacy through five varied instrumentals. “Vajra Disco” pulses with anticipation, its tempo measured by the clear ring of a ritual bell. But earthly concerns are not far behind, as “Headache” sweeps over with a building electric guitar and “Mansion Machine Music” closes the record with a sense of grand drama.
Songs for Tāra opens onto a vast musical and personal horizon, hearkening back to Elephant 6, early Beck, and Sebadoh and sitting alongside the work of Karl Blau, Devendra Banhart, and JB Hunter. It is an honest, searing look at spiritual practice in difficult times. “There is no cure for this except sheer surrender,” Diglio reminds us on “Hara.” Time to let go.
Baltimore Sound Document is a new section featuring new music releases from Baltimore artists. To have your music featured, email [email protected].