(Olde English Spelling Bee; 2010)
By Andrew Hall | 24 July 2010
Few records released this year are as contradictory by design as Mare, Julian Lynch’s sophomore album. Its material is compositionally dense and musically expansive, yet it simultaneously seems slight and almost empty. These songs sound both utterly in line with the work of his New Jersey peers (think Real Estate, Ducktails, pretty much anyone who has appeared on an Underwater Peoples compilation) yet totally out of place within that scene; they have nothing to do with beaches, don’t seek to evoke anything especially childlike, and never depend solely upon pitch-adjusted samples to shape the whole of their backing tracks. Stranger yet, Mare is a record that in spite of its dense arrangements seems so hushed as to barely leave an impression, but this simply isn’t true; while I struggle to pick out songs, or even moments within songs, the album as a whole proves strikingly replayable. Pinpointing why this is, exactly, is difficult.
Lynch is far more composer than singer-songwriter here. His voice appears in many of his songs, but his words are almost completely unintelligible, leaving it to function solely as a melodic vehicle, and they’re far more vital to opener “Just Enough” and the album’s title track than on most of what follows. Within that title track, it’s less of an anchor than the toy piano that props up his singing and gives it shape, and the heavy, loping percussion is so much louder than anything else that the melody feels almost like a distraction, putting rhythm, texture, and atmosphere at the forefront.
From that point on, Mare reveals new tricks as it progresses. “A Day at the Racetrack” and “Stomper” briefly show off horn arrangements that leave an immediate impression in spite of how few seconds they’re actually audible, and “Ears” is an assault of low toms and dirty, distorted electric guitars. “Travelers” and “In New Jersey,” then, combine a number of the shorter, more exploratory tracks’ elements into structures at least more immediately reminiscent of pop songs. “In New Jersey” goes so far as to feature multi-tracked vocals and a hook built from hand percussion and an ascending, looped bass line that allows room for some of the warmest, most developed playing on the entire album.
Lynch’s work sounds to some degree torn between songcraft and sonic explorations, and this album demonstrates this repeatedly. While his production and the amount of material that makes up his recordings is consistent, each song’s rewards are noticeably disparate, and it makes the finished product sound as much like an EP of its bookends accompanied by a number of experiments. Lynch is clearly a talented writer, and these songs show that he has an approach to pop songs that seems to be almost uniquely his own. His biggest weakness, at this point, is that when his music borders on ambience, it lacks something to pull its listeners back in. Despite this, there’s something about this music that both gave it initial appeal and serves to draw me in. If it’s a record of nothing but haze and texture, and often underdeveloped haze and texture, it is decidedly inviting, and in establishing that sense Lynch proves he has at least one major strength that will help him no matter what direction he moves in.