April 28, 2011

Douglas Martin has never ridden a clay horse.

When listening to the output of Julian Lynch— his new full-length, Terra, specifically– the word “patient” comes to mind. It’s too measured to be laconic, too earthy to be glacial, and too studious to be a synonym of the word “chill.” Latter descriptor withstanding, you’d be hard-pressed to read anything about the Wisconsin-via-Ridgewood, NJ producer and quasi-singer/songwriter without some reference to a place or time perfect for relaxing in a hammock. And though Lynch’s sepia-toned art-folk is full of easy listening and slow-blooming gorgeousness, there are too many elements being siphoned for a record like Terra to truly come across as laidback as it wants to be.

For starters, Lynch is a multi-instrumentalist, and I don’t mean in the “I play guitar and took piano lessons when I was four” sense. I’m talking guitar, piano, keyboards, drums, bass, ukulele, flute, clarinet, saxophone, tabla, and probably even a few instruments snuck into the mix that not even my six years of school band experience can help me name. Terra is relatively free of dazzling virtuosity, but that’s certainly not due to lack of technical proficiency. The wide array of instruments featured on the album all serve as nothing more than parts that add to the whole, as equal moving parts in the machine.

Terra is peppered with tricky phrasings and irregular time signatures, while songs like “Fort Collins” presses the piano keys in fours while tom-tom drums roll in ¾ time, showing a deep consideration for things not many pop musicians bother themselves with, such as meter. Such educated musicology– in addition to his usage of woodwind instruments, if you want to oversimplify things– is why Lynch’s music often gets compared to jazz. But there are quite a few other genres at play here: “Water Wheel One” find those woodwinds fluttering around a simple drag of acoustic guitar strings, which is fairly reminiscent of Yellow House-era Grizzly Bear, an oft-used reference point when evaluating Lynch’s music. “Ground,” the very next track, utilizes ambient drone and saxophone, striking a balance between the two primary sides of Lynch’s music, the spaced-out and the soil-grounded.
It’s kind of a stretch to refer to him as a “singer/songwriter,” simply due to so much time passing between the moments where Lynch sings, that it seems like the vocals are just another instrumental element to his compositions. His singing, however, is the perfect additive to his sonorous tunes; wispy and harmonious, creeping into the highest margins of his range. The lyrics and the way they are delivered is another reason why Lynch is endlessly described as relaxed and unwound, domestic scenes like “I emptied trash from yesterday” being harmonized over the unhurried blossoming of “Clay Horses”. As a singer, he never rises above the late-night hallway voice, where an effort is made to not disturb anybody else, but not to the point of whispering.

The slinky bassline and eased singing of “On Eastern Time” are bookended by a groundswell of synthesizers, providing a top-notch example of Julian Lynch’s prowess as a musician, a talent there has only been an inkling of on past efforts like Mare and Orange You Glad. With Terra, Lynch capitalizes on that promise with much thought and effort, all while making it sound deceptively easy. Such a trick is hard to come by, but one Julian Lynch seems to have mastered.

MP3: Julian Lynch-“Terra”

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