In a day when even indie-leaning college radio stations compress their signals to make their broadcasts as loud as those heard in the middle of the dial, labels release increasingly fewer lo-fi albums. Dudes like Chad Vangaalan are taking advantage of home-recording technology that lets them fashion their bedroom musings into glistening, Nada Surf-ish alt-pop nuggets, leaving marquee indie labels like Sub Pop and Matador to pass off glossy crap they wouldn't have released a decade ago as DIY documentation. So props to Western Vinyl for being one of the only non-CD-R imprints to release an album as under-produced and naked as Something About Violins. Julie Sokolow recorded the entire album by herself to her Mac G4's built-in mic, laying down 12 songs of flinty acoustic guitar and ruminative voice that hearken back to some of '90s alt-rock's most personal and probing touchstones.
The first thing to realize is that Sokolow's minimal approach doesn't mean that her songs are simple. Take "Alternations": its delirious, multi-tracked vocals and swirling chords could form the foundation of a carnival-esque Mercury Rev number. The self-loathing evident in other songs, though, makes one wonder why Sokolow would record rounds and harmonies with her own voice — seems masochistic to replicate yourself when you're warning lovers of "How unfortunate it will be/ When you see/ How ugly I can be." Perhaps embedded here is a subconscious plea to listeners to refute her claims. Or maybe this shit's just so heavy that the only person she trusts with it is herself. Whatever the case, this anguish helps Sokolow to spin some great yarns. In "Business As Usual," her self-abnegating tone recalls Greg Dulli's on Gentlemen: "I'll take the bus/ You can take my belongings." And by the end of the album, the storm front fans out, covering us all — "We underestimate how irrational we are," Sokolow sings in "Motion Screen." It's hard to say whether the lo-fi intimacy eases that blow or makes it all the more painful.