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Julian Julien - Strange CD (album) cover

STRANGE

Julian Julien

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.76 | 18 ratings

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VanVanVan
Prog Reviewer
5 stars "Strange" indeed, but undoubtedly great. Over the course of the three albums Julien Julian has asked me to review for him, he has certainly managed to make a fan out of me. His unique, eclectic style of composition combines many different sounds and genres to create something totally unlike most other music I've heard. "Strange" is no different, though it takes a slightly different road than the other albums of his I've reviewed. All but gone are the Magma and general zeuhl influence that appeared heavily on "Fractale" and to a lesser extent on "Terre." Don't worry that that means "Strange" is taking the safe road, however, as this music is pushes boundaries and bends genres to create electric, eclectic world-folk/jazz the likes of which my ears have never heard. If that bizarre blend of genres sounds contrived or artificial to you than don't worry about the label: this is great music, pure and simple, experimental and progressive and beautiful all in one.

"Leh" begins with a brief hodgepodge of sound that quickly resolves into a tribal, eastern sounding piece of music that features strings heavily. Typical to Mr. Julien's work, however, there are all kinds of instruments featured, and the arrangement is such that you can really only hear the music as a whole: it's very difficult to pick out specific parts independent from the whole piece. However, the violin still plays a prominent part, often leading the mix with a melody that recalls a gypsy camp settling down for the night. "Leh" is boundary-pushing and experimental, but also very cinematic and melodic, and has significantly less zehul influence than the other two albums I've heard from Julien.

"Cirque" quickly lives up to its name, with a carnival-themed keyboard part providing the backbone of the track. The violin makes a return appearance, but its part is less melodic than on "Leh" and much more avant, with plenty of pitch-sliding and squeaking. A variety of other keyboard parts appear as well, and "Cirque" ends up being a great track: definitely experimental and outside the norm, but also extremely playful and not hard to appreciate.

"Charlotte" comes next, beginning with some keyboard textures that recall 8-bit music before launching into another melodic section that has a lot of influence from eastern-European folk. "Charlotte" however, is much more keyboard driven than "Leh" was, and while strings certainly do appear in a prominent position, especially towards the end of the track, the keyboards are really what makes the track what it is, with a variety of synth textures providing an idiosyncratic backing part for the strings to play over. Another great track with great melodies, arranged in a way that perfectly highlights them.

"Wath's Démocratie" trades in the folk for a more tribal sound that also has some funk elements. Some tribal sounding percussion gives a rhythmic base for the track and an interesting combinations of keyboards, guitars, strings, and wordless vocals give the track a psychedelic world-music feel that also has some touches of jazz and funk. I don't think it's quite as strong melodically as the three tracks before it, but the difference in flavor of its sound definitely makes up for it.

"Tinananan" is equally eclectic, mixing an almost glitch or electronica percussion part with psychedelic, middle eastern sounding guitar and synth. Vocals return as well here, and to be honest I'm not sure if they're wordless or simply in a language I don't understand, but either way they enhance the music very well, adding another element to the sound without ever intruding on the instruments.

"Le Caquou" begins with a field recording of crickets which is overlaid with some very faint keyboards or winds (can't uite tell which) before launching into the track proper. The melody is begun by, of all things, the unlikely combination of what sounds like a sitar and a person whistling. Strange though it may sound, the combination works incredibly well, with the same kind of eastern folk kind of sound that has so permeated this release very prominent in this track as well. Strings, guitar, and organ all eventually make appearances as well without ever sounding out of place, and the track concludes with a brief synth postlude that caps off the track nicely.

"Sophie" makes use of electronics to create a backtrack that's almost reminiscent of disco. Over this plays what sounds like a flute, and the juxtaposition is extremely striking. Old sounds meet new in a way that should absolutely sound gimmicky or jarring, but somehow feels completely correct. Mr. Julien's compositional and arrangement skills are to be commended; the man can put any combination of sounds you can think of together and make it sound like the most natural thing in the world.

"Cosmos" begins with an epic horn swell over which strings spiral upwards towards the skies for which the track is named. After this piano takes over, laying down a repeating progression around which swirl a great variety of instruments, from the synths to percussion to the nigh-omnipresent strings. Eventually the piano drops back, leaving these instruments more or less alone, before returning in the last minute of the track for a sedate, dreamy closing for the track.

"Planète" begins with what sounds like a gong before what sounds like electronic percussion comes in. Over this repeating back-beat a dreamy blend of instruments plays, contributing an almost trip-hoppy sound. "Planète" is definitely one of the more experimental tracks on the album (and that's saying something) with almost ambient synth textures layered over increasingly frenetic electronic back-beat. Certainly not the most melodic track on the album but definitely one of the most interesting.

The seven minute title track follows, clocking in at almost two minutes longer than anything else on the album. Stylistically similar to the tracks before it, "Strange" combines great instrumental technicality in all kinds of styles to create an incredibly eclectic blend of progressive music. Piano again takes center stage for much of the track, but there are tons of instruments on display here, entering and exiting the track suddenly but always in a way that makes perfect sense. Musically the track is even harder to describe: there are touches of folk, touches of jazz, touches of electronica- the list goes on and on, but the only adjective that truly captures the essence of this music is "indescribable." "Strange" lives up very well to its status as title track; this is an absolute musical tour de force.

"Nocturne Indien" takes a turn for the mournful, with organ, strings, and eclectic percussion creating somber folk music that's almost dirge-like. It's still quite pretty, of course, practically dripping raw emotion. The ending in particular really tugs the heartstrings, with the violin practically wailing as its playing grows ever wilder.

"No Name" closes out the album. Percussion and organ take the initial lead, but horns quickly make an appearance as well, as do a variety of winds and keyboards. The percussion as well is especially excellent on this track, understated but perfectly fitting. Towards the end of the track saxophone takes the lead for the first time on the album, and the track fades out on a final, sorrowful organ chord. "No Name" definitely has an air of finality to it that makes it a great closing track to this incredibly diverse, eclectic album.

Of the three albums Mr. Julian has asked me to review, "Strange" has been my favorite by far. Every track is both a perfect, self-sustaining piece of music and a necessary part of the album as a whole-though tracks don't flow together this album still feels like one big piece of music. There isn't one note out of place on this entire album, and every track seems like the perfect one to follow the one that came before it. This is the album to start with if you want to find out what Julian Julien is all about, and this is the album you point to if anyone ever tells you that progressive music is stagnant or dead.

4.5/5, rounded up

VanVanVan | 5/5 |

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