A gorgeous half-portrait, when it peaks, of enjoyable, gritty complexity.
Daniel Ross 2013
It seems appropriate that this third solo LP from New York cellist Julia Kent was recorded completely alone. Even the title itself suggests a reflective, introverted longing to consider how you might set a life to music.
And it's not something that she enters into lightly or frivolously. From the outset the tone is markedly serious, occasionally oppressively so, and completely devoid of humour. There are times when the walls close in and the grimness becomes quite intoxicating. But at least it is intoxicating.
The delicate influence of minimalists like Michael Nyman and Steve Reich pervades much of the album, though her tempering of it with occasional found sounds makes it a much darker and grimier experience.
Gentle increases in texture on Tourbillon are pure indie-minimalist trope-following (give a musician a loop pedal and an afternoon and see what they come back with – it'll probably sound like this), and perhaps the greatest downfall of the record.
There's so much scope to combine the droning and looping with something inspiring, something completely 'other'. But Kent doesn't always take the opportunity to do that.
That said, when those opportunities are taken, it's a scintillating listen. It's difficult to gain any insight on actual character traits (the moods are perhaps too general, the titles not evocative enough to be specific), but Character is at its best when it's meaty, spooky, and up-close.
Again, those sampled sounds and vocal snippets on Kingdom are scratchy enough to make you think that Kent's home studio is den of murk squalor, with grunting piano adding the barest of human touches.
Character ends up somewhere between a Flaming Lips experiment and a Munch painting, a work wracked with paranoia but with enough familiarity to make it a little more approachable.
Perhaps fear got in the way and those more predictable numbers could've been worked on for a little longer until they grew into something else. But when it's peaking, this is a gorgeous, gloomy half-portrait of enjoyable, gritty complexity.