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Julian Lynch, ‘Lines’ – Album Review

It’s cliche to say a picture is worth a thousand words, but there are times when photographs capture not just images, but also ideas. The photos used to promote Julian Lynch’s fourth LP, ‘Lines,’ achieve this. They find the Jersey native looking as if he’s eight hours into a recording session and about to tell the photographer, “This isn’t the best time.” In one shot, Lynch stands with a Moog in front of him, clarinets and saxophones in hand and a guitar and bass strapped around his neck — all in an apartment living room where a cat sleeps on the mantle behind him. He looks nonchalant, like we’re witnessing a typical Tuesday.

The thing is, after you see these images, it’s difficult to keep Lynch or his music at arm’s length. The mini-symphony ‘Going,’ which opens ‘Lines,’ creates the feeling of movement — of leaving. But realizing that the layers and layers of instrumentation all come from that living room, by that man, with that cat watching, it’s enough to make you question why more artists don’t release photos like this.

More than any of his previous releases, ‘Lines’ sees Lynch inch further away from “difficult” music and reveal himself by nearing the proverbial “lines” that separate experimental visions and pop music traditions. The strongest tracks are almost catchy, and the intriguing and inviting vocals are almost high enough in the mix to pop out. The arrangements, meanwhile, are nearly smooth and subtle enough to avoid jarring new listeners. If ‘Lines’ is a metaphor for something in Lynch’s career, it’s the boundary between untamed artist happily existing on the fringe and growing musician looking to mix the music of his reality with the music in his mind.

On ‘Yawning,’ Lynch uses his high register and chaotic keyboard flourishes to surprising ends, suggesting what Kevin Drew might sound like if he hadn’t left the bedroom, err, living room. On the title track, he uses the Moog in harsh contrast to the other instruments, which evoke Real Estate on a cloudy day. He combines phaser effects and nostalgic acoustic guitar strums, and the closing percussion and reverb bridge the gap. And ‘Gloves,’ simply stated, is the catchiest and most fun bit of songwriting Lynch has included on an album yet.

And, yes, Lynch still has plenty of adventurous ambient diversions, like the eight-minute gallop ‘Shadow,’ which closes the album, and ‘Carlos kelleyi 1,’ on which he flaunts his woodwind prowess. Even the album’s most perturbing moment, the unhinged ‘Horse Chestnuts,’ succeeds as a moment of reprieve from the general hospitality of the other songs.

The academic world in which Lynch resides clearly defines him, at least in part, as nine months out of the year, he’s a PhD candidate in Wisconsin studying ethnomusicology and anthropology. He’s long claimed that his study of tribal cultures and music do not seep into his songwriting, but that line is now blurring as well, with some of the percussion-driven marches, between-song transitions and the sitar-ish effect on ‘Carlos kelleyi 2′ all hinting at an influence from his time spent researching in Delhi.

The triumph of ‘Lines’ is how Julian Lynch manages to satisfy both his experimental and traditional urges. He’s said this is the first album he didn’t release immediately after recording the songs. Rather, he sat with them a while, received feedback and made some changes. And, the extra time shows, as it’s his most satisfying collection. It points to a growth that will have fans and critics eager to see more progress. With the handcuffs of his schooling and his home recording space unlocked, he’ll hopefully give “full-time musician” a genuine shot.

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