Hype Hype Hooray is a biweekly “critique” of the music scene and the blogosphere that feeds it, told through the lens of Jamie Hale, a journalist who likes music about as much as he likes scotch and a firm leather chair. Please enjoy with a grain of salt.
I sat on a plane in the sky, somewhere between Portland and San Francisco. My in-flight ginger ale bubbled nervously on the tray table in front of me. I was en route to Los Angeles by way of San Diego to visit friends. The trip was meant to be fun, a vacation to a part of the world with which I wasn’t familiar, but a small voice inside me begged for something greater, something more significant.
I pulled out my iPod and scrolled through to a record I hoped would calm my nerves: Julian Lynch’s latest album “Lines.” I sipped the soda and leaned back against the hard fabric seat. The music engulfed me at once:
Jangling guitars, thudding drums, discontent synth, and droning woodwinds, all coming together dramatically and at once, playing a chaotic melody of foreboding and fear. I swallowed hard. My ears popped. I stared ahead into a field of blue fabric as the music grew more intense. I was embarking on a journey of great importance, I realized, one with high stakes and dire consequences. The song thudded in step with my heart.
As I accepted this fate, this feeling of purpose, the music faded away. It gave rise to a soothing melody set to a confident rhythm–a simple, tribal sort of song cloaked in thin, whispered vocals, like a sheer cut of silk. It offered comfort in nature, in human nature, it seemed to say, in the raw, uncomfortable emotions I felt that, it didn’t acknowledge, it had made me feel in the first place.
And just as I had accepted that truth of the moment, the song broke down chaotically and faded away, evolving into something else entirely–another song with another emotional objective. While it should have been maddening, the music calmed me down, it showed me that the feelings I had were real, and that in spite of my anxiety there was peace to be found. It was heartening. It was beautiful. It was profound.
Such is the world of Julian Lynch.
I don’t hear a lot about Julian Lynch. He’s certainly not on the radio, alongside the likes of Phoenix and Passion Pit. His name isn’t thrown into the same circles as Noah Lennox and Kurt Vile. He doesn’t even get quite as much recognition as acts like Real Estate and Tennis, two of his label mates at Underwater Peoples. The introspective New Jersey musician has four quality records under his belt (and great off-album material to boot), and has earned quiet nods of approval from critics, so why isn’t he a big deal?
The truth of the matter is that he doesn’t really seem to care.
Lynch started releasing music under the name Born2Run, while studying ethnomusicology in Madison, Wisconsin. His first efforts, a small handful of ethereal Eastern-styled meditations, are about as understated as it gets, but the talent behind the meticulous introspection is real.
That talent burst onto the indie blog scene in 2009, courtesy of Underwater Peoples, then an up-and-coming label based in D.C. The label’s hugely influential compilation, “Underwater Peoples Summertime Showcase,” featured Lynch’s brilliant “Droplet on a Hot Stone,” a song which, full disclosure, remains one of my favorite of the last decade. As bloggers took notice, Lynch, alongside Real Estate, Ducktails and others, was on the rise.
This was a time, if you remember, when the indie scene was chilling out in a big way. This was the debut year for both Toro Y Moi and Washed Out, the grandfathers of the much-maligned “chillwave” movement. Lynch wasn’t jumping aboard the bandwagon with his mellow style, he was helping lay its foundation. But as his genre-mates released their debuts to critical acclaim (both Real Estate and Memory Tapes earned “Best New Music” status on Pitchfork), Lynch released “Orange You Glad,” a disappointing debut that felt hastily cobbled together. It’s easy to imagine the musician focused on school, on Madison, on anything but this hypeworthy genre taking over the blogs.
A year later, after chillwave was successfully recast as a pretentious slur, Lynch finally came into his own as a musician. His sophomore release, “Mare,” was everything his debut was not: diverse, lush, powerful. It carried over Lynch’s trademark patience, injecting a sense of confidence that had been missing from most of his earlier work. “Mare” earned Lynch great critical reception (including Pitchfork’s BNM status), and set him on a path to indie greatness.
His next album, 2011’s “Terra,” however, underwhelmed critics, earned him no new acclaim, and actually missed my radar completely. In retrospect, the record is fine–it’s good even. It doesn’t evolve as dramatically as “Mare” did from “Orange You Glad,” but rather finds Lynch continuing to timidly explore the world between instrumental experimentation, traditional Eastern styles and stripped-down folk.
The evolution to this year’s “Lines” is about as thin. We don’t see much new with his latest project, but that doesn’t mean it’s not impressive. Lynch seems to be circling back to the influences that kicked off his career, crafting a more mature, and more dire, sound. While the zen is still there, it’s wrapped in a sense of realism–like a young monk growing older, only to better understand the perils of reality.
It’s this sort of meditative growth that doesn’t bring Lynch to the table alongside his more bombastic counterparts. Critics and fans alike look for music that makes great leaps, not small shuffles. But that’s sort of his point. To push his music to glory for glory’s sake would go against its very nature.
There’s a quote from a book of Eastern philosophy that comes to mind when I listen to Julian Lynch. “Nobody seems to realize how very useful it is to be useless,” it says. The idea is not to focus on doing and changing, but on sitting and evolving–at whatever pace is natural. Lynch won’t make drastically different albums, because that’s not the pace of his evolution. He won’t fit into the formula of a genre or of a movement, because he truly doesn’t seem to care. It doesn’t matter. In the end, in the greater picture, it’s just not important.
It’s from that apathy, and his careful introspective thinking, that an authentic, emotionally-complex sound is crafted. It might not jive with our fast-paced, goal-oriented society of doers, but that’s ok. Lynch is challenging us more than he is himself. He seems quite confident in his ethereal world–it’s the rest of us that have trouble relaxing.