Album Review: Julia Brown – To Be Close To You

[Birdtapes; 2013]

Sixteen minutes isn’t a whole lot of time to get your point across, but that’s how much time Julia Brown have allowed themselves on To Be Close to You. The efficiency speaks for itself. The Maryland-based trio’s debut crams an LP worth of ideas, and a touching, loosely-threaded plot, into the length of an EP. It’s an intimate confession, revealed as haphazardly as you would swap stories with a close friend, pouring its innermost thoughts directly into your eardrums.

Although it was recorded with a boom box, To Be Close to You is as pretty as it is unassuming. This is the musical equivalent of found footage, thanks to the grainy, jerrybuilt production. At times, it almost feels like you have been eavesdropping or picking up an errant radio signal. The song titles on To Be Close to You are tied to particular memories and moments. Boy sees girl, boy is too shy to meet girl, boy gets girl and wants nothing more than to be with girl, boy loses girl, boy gets sad, boy dons wig to be closer to her. The usual.

Julia Brown convey these feelings without saying much at all. The words on “i’m falling in love,” the album’s minute-long opener are charming and relatable, but it’s the meaning beyond the words where To Be Close To You finds much of its power. The emotional punch of the album hinges on the narrative, but the music is so lovably ramshackle that it feel essential to the story as well. Even with all the sundry influences, there’s a strong sense of self. Seven Swans­-era Sufjan rears his head on “library,” while the guitars “how i spent my summer” sound like a slightly stoned Joni Mitchell.

The leader behind Julia Brown, Sam Ray (formerly of Teen Suicide, amongst other solo efforts), is delivering a very personal story, but To Be Close to You plays out like it could be your story. There’s a universality to the emotions, a continuous sense of displacement, like losing something you hoped that you might be able to hang onto for longer. There are moments of tenderness, humour, and pathos, all inter-spliced with one another, delivered with thoughtful memories. It marks a time where things were messy and confusing; and you’d still trade anything to relive them. The worst thing about To Be Close To You is that you’ll want more.