When the announcement of what apparently is the seventh album from Julie’s Haircut came in I have to say at I was a little underwhelmed. The title ‘Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin’ was not one that had me scurrying to the download button but, I thought, it’s from Rocket Recordings and as one of my ‘goto’ labels it had surely got to be at least worth a listen. My fear, I think, was that it might be the sort of music that I would struggle to find accessible. I was wrong, never judge a record (completely) by its cover, because this is just one amazing album; and in a minute I’m going to tell you why.
First of all I’m going to include some background that Rocket have provided as part of the information for the album, which was unusually helpful for a press release.
““Being from Italy and doing what we do – we are outsiders” says Luca Giovanardi, a founder member of Julie’s Haircut, whose always incendiary yet increasingly outlandish sound has found itself with few parallels in their homeland since their inception towards the end of the last century. “We have always been outsiders.” Active since the late 90’s, Julie’s Haircut have embarked on a musical journey that has seen them gradually abandon traditional forms of rock writing for a more experimental approach, based on improvisation in the studio.“In fact we don’t ‘write’ songs anymore, not in the usual sense.” Luca explains “It’s more similar to what Teo Macero was doing on Miles Davis’s records: improvising freely and then ‘finding’ the song, refining it until it comes out in its final form. Can – whose former singer Damo Suzuki is now a very close friend of ours and we’ve been performing with him many times – used a similar method. And of course both Can and Davis have been two huge influences on our work in the last ten years.””
Well if you’re going to start from Can and Miles Davis you aren’t going to go far wrong, and really this album from Julie’s Haircut is not only very right it is, to my ears, just about perfect. This is an album that feels so free and easy, it really sounds as if it has emerged organically…it is a thing of real consummate beauty…but a beauty that has different forms.
I fell in love with this album from the very first bars album opener ‘Zukunft’ (German for ‘future’) with it’s gentle jazz lilt and soft soporific tones that gradually build into a stunning track of incessant motorik beauty. Straight away this is music that just hits you right in your soul. It signifies warmth, comfort and an overall feeling of, to quote German again ‘gemütlichkeit’ (best translation for me is ‘snugness’), almost womb-like. I really like the way the saxophone adds a layer of unpredictable elegance just further draws me in and allows me to see the number so freshly each time. Seriously if this is the future sign me up!
After over eleven minutes of ‘Zukunft’ I wondered whether this album could really keep up that sort of quality. The first think that I noticed about ‘The Fire Sermon’ was that it was much darker and more angular. The sinister vocals and and accompanying keyboard really drag you out of that comfort with a start. This is the rude awakening (or perhaps birth?), here reality bites and bites hard. This track also has a beauty to it, but it is beautiful like a black rose is beautiful…foreboding and elegiac.
After those two extremes ‘Orpheus Rising’ takes something of a middle way between them. Given Julie’s Haircut ‘s process for making music it is easy to see why Orpheus would be an apt subject, an outsider who sought to charm people with his music. This track can certainly charm, but is in no way charming…it feels like both warning and siren.
As the title suggests ‘Deluge’ sees a change of pace. This is a much heavier and dense track that really hits you hard for the first two minutes with its mixture of jazz, heavy guitar and banging rhythm section. Then, suddenly, we get the calm after the storm in a quite middle section…but soon realise that the calm is actually the eye as we are then carried off once more on a maelstrom of sound…wow!
After that, as far as I’m concerned, all bets are off with this album…it could go anywhere. With ‘Salting Traces’ you can really see get an idea how Julie’s Haircut put their music together. While there is an absolute coherence here, within it you feel that there is a liquidity to the sound which is so tacit that you feel that it could change every time you listen. I particularly love how the coda of ‘Orpheus Rising’ comes out towards the end…like somehow coming back to significant memories.
The mixture of acoustics and electronics at the beginning of ‘Cycles’ give the track a very atmospheric feel. Yet there is also a certain disconnect here too, especially through the vocal which seems somehow slightly out of phase. The saxophone acts as something of a counterbalance to this bringing the track from the edge. The almost inhuman vocal here made me think that it might be the ‘demon twin’ of the album title speaking, which given the set a whole different edge and left me wanting to go back and start again…
This feeling continues with ‘Gathering Light’ which, like much of the album, is a melange of competing emotions, but perhaps made most explicit here in the contrast of the light of the title and ‘black mirror’ of the lyrics. This suggests to me that the album is about these struggles between the self and the ‘inner demon twin’…struggles that are played out in a beautiful yet menacing way.
This finds a resolution in a quite profound way in final track ‘Koan’. A koan is a riddle used in Zen Buddhism, and is usually unsolvable, yet thinking about it is believed to help breakdown other mental barriers that were previously perceived to be unsurmountable. This sonic koan does just that with this album in that it retains the elements that give the who album its complexity…yet somehow come to terms with them in what sounds like a dialogue between the ‘twins’ in what is the most abstract of the numbers here…not so much an ending but a new beginning perhaps.
For me this is quite simply a stunning album. It has depth and it has beauty. It has elements that comfort and cajole, but also a dissonance that signifies fear and disconnection. It is an album that has been created not written and one that has set the bar very high so early in 2017. I’m glad I gave it a listen and urge you to do the same.
‘Invocation And Ritual Dance Of My Demon Twin’ is released 17th February 2017 on Rocket Recordings.