Album Review: Julia Bhatt – it is what it is

[Self-released; 2022]

Julia Bhatt started out in September 2019 releasing her first three singles – “Tall,” “Marco” and “I’m Cool” – when she was 18 and graduating high school. In 2020, she released the singles “Miami” and “Bird Girl” as well as her debut EP 2 steps back.  While her tour plans were stunted as the world shut down during the pandemic, she started to write songs on software, Ableton Live, rather than on the guitar – a whole new creative experience for her.  The first music to come from this new approach to making music were her 2021 singles “1:30” and “Hair Salon Vibes”, both of which are included on the debut album, it is what it is, alongside the early single “Miami”. 

The album title is a little homage to one of her favorite albums, Is This It by the Strokes. She ”had a HUGE Strokes phase that never went away.”  

She has a voice that is a little Amy Winehouse, mixed with a little Rihanna and some Sia sprinkled in for good measure. If there was a recipe for Julia, it would be pure authenticity and humility with a dash of shy and nervous, but with the core ingredient being natural talent. She is not trying to be an influencer; when she participates in the social media virality, it is not filtered. She is goofy and awkward, claiming she can’t dance on TikTok.  She is a delight, and so like her music: witty, catchy, and vulnerable. 

The album starts with “On My Shoulder”, her own battle of conscience vs. temptation. She laments that “there’s never a right way to mess up / there’s always a new way to give up” over happy acoustic guitar strums and a groovy walking bass line. There is a maturity to the production that belies her age and newness to the art of recording in Ableton Live.

“Karma” gives us a “love song of sorts” in a pitched-up jazzy vocal that Julia wrote at age 16. The punchy drum groove drives the energy, while the bouncy bass groove and electric guitar strums set a tone much more sophisticated than one might expect from a self-taught musician and producer. The music is clever and complex but also fun; it invites you to the party and gets you moving.

“Comedown” feels like a throwback to Mazzy Star and Zero 7, brilliant bands whose heyday passed long before Julia started her musical journey. The downtempo groove and sonorous melodies feel at once classic and fresh.  “Fighting Type” struts in with crunched-up electric piano stabs, followed up with a simple but eminently groovy drum beat and another funky bass line that could have been played by Jaco or Bootsy. Julia again demonstrates a musicality and virtuosity far beyond her years.

For Julia, “Cotton Candy,” is “not necessarily about someone, but more of a feeling that can come from someone. It’s about feeling safe being on the edge and comfortable in foreign places… kind of like a rollercoaster. You put your trust in the thrill, sorta.”  All while you clap along and hum the melodies, drawn into the musical world that is so uniquely Julia.

“Day Dream” comes in with moody synth chords and beats that blur the lines between jazz and hip hop. This short song clocks in at about a minute and a half, a mellow groovy interlude that leaves you wanting more of this daydream.

Synth-pop with a twist is the theme in the appropriately titled- “Confetti”. Julia shares: “this song is kind of looking inwards from a different perspective than I typically have… There’s always a rational voice in the back of my head telling me to chill out and slow down, but it gets buried very easily. I wrote this as that voice.”  Her beats are fun, the music intelligent and original. And, above all, her hooks are legit. 

“Sweetheart” rides along on a trip hop beat over chords that are reminiscent of Steely Dan. As she details her struggles “switching the scene / from real to dream / I wanna be somewhere in between,” you feel her reaching for connection; “I just wanna be somebody sweet.” And sweet she is indeed, on every song on it is what it is.  

In an age when public personas are curated and amplified, Julia gives you Julia in all of her humble grandeur. She is a breath of fresh air and not to be overlooked. It is remarkable to see her live performance and to hear her creation. Enjoy the simple, hooky ease from an artist without pretense who is worthy of applause.