Julia Brown - An Abundance of Strawberries
It seems strange that a release so understated could have had such an impact on the year's music climate. Julia Brown opened 2013 with their debut effort, to be close to you, an offering that wasn't quite long enough to be classified as an album considering its meager length (16 minutes), but was also too fleshed out, too complete to be recognized as a mere EP. to be close to you existed its own quaint, lowercase reality where punctuation and capitalization were optional and cellos melted into brute, acoustic strumming like hot fudge in a bowl of tape-recorded ice cream. Over the course of the year, many similar outings blossomed across Bandcamp's vast musical landscape, each of them beautiful and fragile in their own way. But none of them could quite live up to the chill-inducing warbliness that was to be close to you. As I waited for Julia Brown's follow-up album, An Abundance of Strawberries, to download, I wondered if even JB themselves could live up to their own lofty standard.
I like to think of Julia Brown's frontman, Sam Ray, as Charlie Brown searching for meaning in South Park's cruel, eternal winter. Somberly, he recites free verse over blustery instrumentals, drawing out the coziness in "the old stone church and kids selling coke". He meditates on the mid-2000's. His friend's older brother shows him his guns and pills on a snow day. He stares out the window on Halloween. The lyrics are beautifully observational; Sam's imagined hands stay rested in the front pockets of his jacket while he looks on, emotionally detached, but sensory-wise, he's absorbent. The scene is spit out at the listener, and it's up to him what to make of them as waves of twangy guitar and tape hiss crash in the distance. Instrumentally, An Abundance of Strawberries isn't as consistently breathtaking as to be close to you, but it is more varied and experimental. "Snow Day" pairs piano with a whirring drum machine, similar to Ray's work under the Ricky Eat Acid moniker. The title track features the band's lushest arrangement yet, marching band drums and droning ambience creating a hugeness unparalleled by any lo-fi song I've heard in recent years. Though I didn't find Strawberries as immediately satisfying as previous Julia Brown output, I think it just might be their finest work to date. Just give it time.