Julia Brown - To Be Close To You
(Bird Tapes 2013)
"A beacon of light in a dark age of cookie-cutter lo-fi bands."
This is one of the most impressive debut albums I've seen in a while. Gritty, intelligent and inventive, pop trio Julia Brown have re-discovered the magic songwriting formula that early 90s acts like Sebadoh and Built To Spill perfected. They've mixed in just enough tape hiss to bring out the warmth in their spindly guitars and humming keyboards, but not so much that their recordings sound unlistenable. They make music that wears a comfortable sweater of lo-fi fuzz instead of the mass of jackets and scarves that Ralphie's brother was forced to don in A Christmas Story. Pop tunes were meant to be played by artists, not overprotective moms. Julia Brown obviously understands what I'm talking about here, as they're a beacon of light in a dark age of cookie-cutter lo-fi bands who drown their songwriting in noise.
To Be Close To You commences with "I'm Falling In Love". It's only just over a minute long, but serves as a microcosm for the rest of the album. In its short time frame, it prepares one to listen to the aesthetic that permeates the rest of the tracks. Gentle guitar pluckings and a viola interplay to form a woozy atmosphere, with the whole band joining in to belt out the chorus of "Oh my God, I'm falling in love!". I just love the way this recording sounds; not exactly unprofessional, just spur of the moment. You can tell Julia had fun playing the song. Up next is "Library". It's my favorite song on To Be Close To You, with a dreamy guitar riff that floats along on tidal waves of spacey strings. It really reminds me of some of Belle and Sebastian's earlier works, particularly "Marx and Engels". The punk vibe of the first two tracks give way to folkier leanings on the next six. "I Will Do This for the Rest of My Life" has a bit of a Neutral Milk Hotel influence, while "TV Show" ends in a gorgeous instrumental coda made up of droning keyboards and a chiming xylophone. It could play in the background of a particularly emotional moment in a 70s cartoon.
To Be Close To You is just an all-around fabulous first effort from Julia Brown. They've quickly proven that they're more than just another fuzzed-out shoegaze band, selling out the cassette version of this release in less than a day. Only time will tell if they can put out a worthy follow-up to this album.