Julian Lynch's 'Lines' - Album Review - OurVinyl
julian lynch lines review

Julian Lynch’s ‘Lines’ – Album Review

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Julian Lynch is a New Jersey born multi-instrumentalist who is known for easily incorporating different American and World genres in his four full length albums. Bred of the same effervescence as his NJ friend Matt Mondanile of Real Estate and Ducktails fame, his coveted sophomore album Mare propelled his pretty, rich textured sensibilities into the indie spotlight in 2010. While his albums are distinct, they do share a general level of connectedness with styles derived from his studies as an ethnology-musicologist at University of Wisconsin-Madison. His music is broadly influenced and he seems to enjoy experimenting with lead instruments and melodies, rarely settling on a formulaic approach. The music comes together organically in his own residence with his own production techniques and he nails a sound at once both spontaneous and tightly structured. Tribal, floor tom heavy percussion leads the way for his woodwinds and jangly guitar work to play out melodies both African and Americana in spirit. He is a solo musician who has professed he was driven to study music more for the social impact of music’s cultural underpinnings than to intellectualize upon styles and motifs. In light of this academic pursuit, he actually creates music with a very rich and earthy feel that seems to say “I don’t care about things like that.”

julian lynch lines reviewHis newest album Lines (Underwater Peoples, March 2013) is a step away from the breezy atmosphere on Mare and Terra and seems to carry a level of unpredictability that provides a more robust sense of attitude, especially in his woodwind arrangements. Supposing you could say Julian Lynch has always been easy on the ears, this album breaks with tradition and hits listeners with a textured and, at times, chaotic blend which must be handled with care.

The album relies heavily on the woodwinds. This works to great effect when they are diluted down with heavy percussion and guitar work with vocals floating in the stratosphere over the rainforest of squawking clarinets and saxophone. However, without the extra instrumentation to smoothen the wind arrangements, some tracks can sound like unintelligible syncopated babble. Unless the listener is willing to diligently focus on dissecting the stark textures from these wailing wind instruments the overall sound is fairly abrasive and unpleasant to listen to. Both the composition and execution for the woodwind section consistently create a callous sound on the ear with some dissonant tones that commonly degrade the intended effect. Thumbs up to Julian for the approach to songwriting and pushing himself out of his previous comfort zone, but smoothing out the woodwinds would really elevate this album’s overall gestalt.

The album opens with atonal woodwinds and segues into a rapid 3/4 which immediately marks this album as a fresh take on his previous sensibilities. The dissonant waltz swirls a storm of woodwinds before decompressing with layered vocals of essentially indecipherable lyrics that rapidly, without grace, dissolve into a neat outro composed of a sliding bass line and xylophone. The song merges two totally different styles and provides two important trends for the rest of the album: unpredictability and ambition.

Julian Lynch’s “Gloves”

From this opening track as a foundation, Lynch’s orchestration sensibilities unfold wildly for the rest of the album, a tempest of horns, bright guitars, and dense percussion. If this music was transcribed for synth it would rival some of Dan Deacon’s catalog. He is a maximalist most of the time, and it’s in the moments of complete crescendo that the music has its greatest impact.

His builds vary from track to track. Singer-songwriter intros lead to great instrumental landings. The album’s most exceptional track “Lines” starts with stark guitar picking and soft vocals before building to one of the most triumphant follow-throughs on the album with wild synth over droning bass and clacking percussion. A sparse feeling, and more experimental, woodwind opening on “Horse Chestnut” leads to a jagged sounding wind instrumental ending. Some tracks are more sound collage than straight ahead songs. Take, for example, his use of sounds mimicking frogs croaking in the rainforest. This makes for a pretty exciting and stimulating feel. But here again, without the listener’s due diligence of dissecting what’s going on the arrangements can be more distracting than intended.

The vocals generally carry a softness with a markedly feeble delivery reminiscent of Elliott Smith. Other times a sweet sounding chamber pop sound prevails in pretty layers. Ultimately, though, this album has a troubling habit of poor lyrical enunciation. Texturally the vocals are great and could be appreciated as an instrumentation unto themselves, but one would need look elsewhere for music with meaningful lyrics, poetry, or an overt musical narrative etc.

Julian Lynch’s “Carios kelleyi II”

Despite Lynch’s hefty instrumentation, he shows moments of great restraint in the vein of his previous albums which allow the listener time to decompress after some of his more opulent instrumental sections. The entirety of “North Line” is built around slide guitar that plays like a hammock on a sunny Sunday morning and doesn’t overstay its welcome at just 1:58 in length. This is a welcome pallet cleanser before he starts to build back up to his more typical wandering bass lines and droning floor tom percussion on “Carios kelleyi II” which recalls moments of Animal Collective and Broken Social Scene.

julian lynch lines reviewThis record is opaque and at times confounding but usually maintains a sense of freshness. His music is very thought out and particular, most notably in the transitions from movement to movement. It isn’t obvious who his influences are which serves to mystify his musical goals and keeps the record exciting for multiple listens. Lynch isn’t without his missteps in taste, though. The head scratcher “Onions” brought a grimace to this listener’s face for how out of place a bouncy electrified guitar driven prog-rock tune feels on the album. The last minute or so on that track is pretty solid though, so don’t skip the track entirely.

If there are a couple things to be said about Julian Lynch, he is damned uncompromising and making music that he must realize is wholly unique and characteristic. His music is tightly structured but stills sounds in the moment and has a lot of heart. He deserves praise for breaking the mold and using left-field arrangements for instruments usually reserved for gentrified classical and jazz heads. However these arrangements will need some smoothing out and improved execution for his ambitious sensibilities to have a lasting effect on a broader listener base. If he sticks with it, a record with the ambition of Lines and the endurance of Mare could be brewing which would definitely turn him into a “made” indie musician who will enjoy a the freedom to make as many albums as he wants, just like his good friend Mondanile.

Actually, would anyone help me support a Ducktails/Julian Lynch collaborative effort?

Written Case Newsom

OurVinyl | Senior Writer