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The Julies – Always & Always (Lost in Ohio)

28 September 2023

Quick. Name a band that waited 27 years to record and release their first long player? Give up? I would, too. But I’m happy to say that The Julies answer this musical conundrum to a T.

You might have known the answer if you tuned in to a recent ”Big Takeover Show” when Jack Rabid spun the superb “My Heaven Is A Dance Floor” on request from staff writer Elizabeth Klisiewicz. Jack rightly mentioned that The Julies needed an album to increase their visibility, and sure enough they have finally delivered.

Though fans have waited years, ”Always & Always” released September 29 sets a tone right off the bat with its sleeve artwork, evocative of New Order’s ”Power, Corruption, and Lies” (Factory, 1983). Per Chris’ comment earlier this week on bandcamp during an album listening party and chat, thanks go to Sarah Fuschia with the photograph and layout “to make all my New Order-iest dreams come true.”

The new record is a finely crafted 10-track journey into familiar-yet-fresh dreampop and shoegaze, with hints of gothy dance (think Xymox or maybe more closely Columbia Mills). It times well with the resurgence in recent years of originators of these scenes including Slowdive and RIDE, who have both enjoyed well-received tours and released new music as good or better than prior efforts from their so-called heyday.

But before we go further, let’s recap how The Julies got here. Smack in the middle of the nineties (1994-96 exactly), the band put out a self-released cassette (the 6-track ”January EP”) and the well-received ”Lovelife EP” (Flying Tart). Both releases boasted a healthy dose of Britpop with sonic comparisons to 80s and 90s artists including The Cure, Catherine Wheel and The Smiths.

Flash-forward to April 2020 and the band’s new label, Lost in Ohio, re-issued the ”Lovelife EP” lovingly as a 12”, 33⅓ RPM, limited edition, red vinyl with a fresh master from TW Walsh and liner notes from J. Edward Keyes. A month later in May ’20 the 6-track ”January EP”, was also re-released, again as a cassette, but this time for Kickstarter backers. Then in March ’23, the band released ”Lovelife: The Lost Mixes” as a Bandcamp exclusive. Featuring the Dave Barbe (Sugar) mixes that the band favored at the time but couldn’t get the record company to agree to, the EP sounds delightfully stripped back, eliminating BVs and upping the guitars.

All this activity in recent years whetted appetites but fans were no doubt jonesing for a long-overdue album of new material. June brought the heavy, shoegazey “Symmetry” single, and a month later “My Heaven Is A Dance Floor” was released. This supremely catchy song showcases a mature and much more polished band than we heard with ”Lovelife”. More importantly, “Dance Floor” hinted stylistically at the direction of the full album to come.

With the new music, three of the original 90s five-piece remain; Alex Yost (guitar, synths), Patrick Zbyszewski (guitar, bass, synths), and Chris Newkirk (vocals, words). Kyle Pulley plays bass on ”Always” while also engineering and mixing the record as well as co-producing it with the band. Ian McGlynn (keys, piano, synths) and Keeton Yost (drum programming) round out this album’s personnel.

During the listening party and chat Chris’ noted that ”Always” was “mostly recorded in two sessions at Headroom Studios in Philadelphia; the first in January during a snowstorm, and the second in July during a heatwave. I’m not sure if that exercise in extremes comes through on the record, but I’m guessing in some way or other it manifests.”

The album kicks off with “Symmetry”. Searing guitars take me back to Catherine Wheel or Adorable; one of my fave bands from the 90s. This tune’s grungy dirge is hypnotic and I’d bet it’d make a great live set opener.

With the next track, “My Heaven Is a Dance Floor”, Chris further commented at the listening party that “as we were developing this one, I felt wonderfully adrift in that dreamy purgatory that exists squarely between The Cure and The Smiths. A wonderful state of soul existence.” For me, this song elevates the LP from simply a nice occasional stream to one demanding regular spins on the turntable and inclusion on various must-hear 2023 playlists.

“Every Day Is Like Doomsday” is another standout. With more than a gentle nod to Morrissey’s “Every Day Is Like Sunday”, Chris noted at the listening party that the song is “lyrically intended to be a bit of a sequel and homage to Morrissey’s [song] for the 2020s.” Well said and 100% accurate, down to the familiar phrase, “come, Armageddon, come” . With airy synths and jangly guitar, it’s drenched in Cure-like melodies and also takes me happily back to brooding 80s/90s bands The Essence (a dead-ringer for The Cure) and Sad Lovers and Giants.

“Angels of the Underground” is the next single up for release and it balances between gothy synthpop/synthwave and chiming guitar rock. The drum programming is balanced and not too dominant and I especially love the OMD -esque break in the middle. Just a perfect tune that sounds retro and contemporary simultaneously. As Chris said at the listening party, “I try not to explain my lyrics too much, but I think most will figure out that this is an ode to the iconic music and music artists that I grew up on. Kinda my ‘Rubber Ring’”.

“Always” is sequenced well to maximum effect. Each song, whether it’s “Symmetry” or “Dance Floor” or “Underground” ends and a certain vibe comes to a close. Take a breath and jump the next train such as on the grungier, flange/phase-filled track, “This Momentary Bliss”. It pulses and demands to be played loud. Same goes for the penultimate track, “The Sulky Youth”.

In between the up-tempo goodness, there are dreamy slow tracks like “Forever Machines” or the gorgeous closer, “Hope Is Hard”, which musically and lyrically reminds me of “Hotel Womb”, the closer on The Church’s “Starfish” (Arista, 1988). Chris sings a lyrical phrase here, “I spent $50 on survival pills” that’s so similar in cadence to Steve Kilbey’s “I paid $80 for this wedding ring.” Such a little thing, but one that exemplifies this record and the way The Julies have determinedly crafted something new in the spirit of their musical idols.