Judith Juillerat Soliloquy

[Shitkatapult; 2005]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: lo-fi electronic, experimental art-pop, sound collage, musique concrète
Others: Björk, Throbbing Gristle, Jim O’Rourke, Kraftwerk

On Soliloquy, Judith Juillerat's compositions inhabit that nebulous realm where simple songcraft and musical production share equal importance. Neither, on these 13 tracks, enjoys a greater focus than the other. Like Björk, Juillerat wraps her spare, concise songs in a shroud of gauzy, sometimes murky ambience; and like the Icelandic songstress, Juillerat has fashioned herself in the "chanteuse-as-producer" mold. But while the purveyors of '90s "trip hop" (i.e. Portishead, Tricky, Massive Attack, et al.)””songwriters who, first and foremost, were producers””served to pioneer the use of Pro Tools and studio trickery in the creation of songs, Judith Juillerat, on the other hand, uses as a starting point the proto-industrial scene of late-'70s Sheffield, England. On Soliloquy, Juillerat is able to boast that the record was created entirely without the use of the computer (which, in the era of the laptop musician, is no mean feat in and of itself). Instead, the French musician employs as her tools the trade vintage (as well as contemporary) synthesizers, beat boxes, the sampler, and a variety of other acoustic instruments, all assembled via nothing more than a multi-track recorder.

Juillerat's primitive, noise-based compositions recall the early work of Cabaret Voltaire, Throbbing Gristle, and perhaps Einstürzende Neubauten. The pieces on Soliloquy are frequently difficult to listen to, and require a great deal of concentration if the listener is to navigate her way through the haze to ultimately discern the skeletal arrangements, teeming with a childlike simplicity, that reside within. Juillerat seems intent on exploring the methods by which sound is capable of being explored and re-imagined. Both linear and complex by their very nature, and characterized by a do-it-yourself aesthetic, these songs create an unsettling intimacy between the listener and the composer. Though more than half the album consists of instrumental tracks, they are nonetheless as engaging as the pieces that feature Juillerat's heavily-accented vocals. Though there is a certain je ne sais quoi about the proceedings that makes us vaguely sense that we have heard the likes of this all before, Juillerat nonetheless manages to express something original and stylistically creative, even if it does sporadically veer toward the grotesque and archaic.

Though the album's strengths far outweigh its weaknesses, Judith Juillerat is guilty of a couple of missteps on Soliloquy. As if to fuel the rampant and irrational Francophobia that is so endemic in contemporary American culture, Juillerat includes "Mes Nuits Sont Plus Belles Que Vos Jours," an eerie and hypnotic track that is marred by its inclusion of an embarrassingly pugnacious reading of the pledge of allegiance by President George Bush the elder (though, comically, it almost sounds as if it could be a recitation by Jello Biafra). The album's final piece, "Jour Se Léve Dans Cinq Immenses Secondes," is a charming, Beethoven-esque piano sonata whose effectiveness is blunted by the overly dense and distracting layers of lapping ocean sounds Juillerat uses as a backdrop for the track. But despite the occasional transgression, Soliloquy is an impressive and mature debut by an inordinately talented artist.

1. Promenade Apéritive d'Un Noctambule
2. Haphazardly
3. Piece of Folk
4. Vol-au-Vent
5. Forget-Me-Not
6. Slack Time
7. Mes Nuits Sont Plus Belles Que Vos Jours
8. Ahlan
9. Pondlife
10. A(r)mour
11. Frolic
12. Apple for Your Eye
13. Jour Se Léve Dans Cinq Immenses Secondes

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