Review Summary: coldest summer night since the frost season two score and two years ago that took many a good folk with it
Alright, here’s one for my emo oldfags: do ya'll remember Julia? They were a quietly appeared and swiftly disbanded group in the 90s. Theirs is the kind of primordial emo your average MCR fans would probably call “some kind of s h i t weeping metal, man.” But for a bit they actually made some underground waves in the West Coast emo hardcore circles, even becoming darlings of the legendary Ebullition Records. Them’s the backgrounds. I, wandering the net, wondering and pondering what wonders wound there in the hundred bands now torn asunder, often come across some members suddenly resurfacing with oddprojects here and there. Others, so often, disappear forever into the good night, never to professionally return to music again. In Julia’s case, most of the members rejoined forces for a side-project like no other: a brief-lived, barely live-performed, somewhat improvised avant-garbage.
Avant-garbage should be a genre of its own. For the fans of mellowing ambient music of all creeds, murmuring jazz improvisations, cathartic noise excursions, and chaos masquerading as experimentation, who have given up pretence that they do not only listen for the snazz, there must be a musical champion of garbagery; a profitless jam recorded in a trash can, served on a dish of rubbish, for the reasons of “well, we had time and the garage was empty, so…” In self-description you are either a pompous ass trying to reinvent the wheel as your own creation, or you just don’t care. There’s freedom in not caring. Folks in purl certainly don’t care. They care so little, they titled all their songs “Untitled”, and I believe that it was out of indifference and not statement. Just the sheer disinterest in who makes heads or tails of it, and who can f u c k right off, is somewhat bar for the course with this kind of a project: a moody slowcore with anti-formal leanings from emo revisionists, a perfect avant-garbage.*
Here's the hang of it: you ditch the lead vocalists from your other projects, you sass out on tuning your instruments, you jam for a few hours, you get yourself in the middle of some label dispute that eventually destroys your band, you wait some 20 years to release, you (don’t) profit. That’s how the sausage is made. Noodling purl married themselves to the style of “not for everybody” by means of “for barely anybody.” It is a rewarding listen, but only if muster up the strength to do it. In keeping with the best underground West Coast hardcore traditions, purl thrive in disorganisation. Most songs here follow a similar structure: you start out harmonising or with a basic rhythm one of you came up with on a whim, play it up a few times, if the varieties are different enough, you keep each version. Voila, now it’s an (quasi-)album. Do not underestimate the power of random ideas, but do not overestimate the necessity for direction.
can be divided into several basic song-writing sections. The start of it all with songs “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled”, my personal favourite, and “Untitled” sees purl embark on a familiar emo-veiled journey. Be ready to slow down your tempo receptors, because this puts ‘slow’ back into ‘slowcore’. At instrumentation this minimalist, often comprising of nothing more than random string plucks atop skeletal drum patterns, some sound arrangements evoke free jazz impressions, in their most broken-down, bare and ambient aspect. By the sixth track, this structure of slowed down drowsy emo dissipates to the point of near noise static, where rhythm becomes obsolete and only wailing dwindles of low fidelity guitars remains. After that, a landscape of meandering distant shrieks of instruments takes hold, gradually decomposing into acoustics. This featherlight solace of sound persists until somewhere around track 14, where the whole facade becomes so paper thin that it crumbles and turns into drony rubble. In the ruins a rhythm appears, approaching from the distance, growing ever more desperate, until with the following three tracks return from the ashes into the swooning emo direction that kicked the whole album off. By track 18 every instrument hitherto used makes an appearance. At a pace this slow, sound this dim, atmosphere this thin, instrumentation this bare, hearing all the instruments like this together has almost cathartic effect, even though at a standalone glance it may not seem like anything much is happening. But the point isn’t in some grandiosity, rather in finding a zenith in even the most stripped of songs. You don’t need to care, whether your songs carry larger idea or read as statements. If you are openly engaged in basically throwaway garbage and you manage to make your garbage come impactful in the long run? Brother, you’ve done some good. The rest of the tracklist generally follows a pattern of the middle section, carrying the album into a blissful, continuously quieting bleakness, lulling you into its cold, dry sleep.
In this their most productive season, 1995-1996, the Julia/purl/Papillon etc crew built a catalogue as varied as can be within the compounds of emo and slowcore. With purl’s wanderings into acoustics, improvisation, abstract instrumentals, and minimalism, the fest of us that cared and care, they also represent a peculiar little outlet for mood deterioration; an oddball journey going from the most spectacular nowhere to the most spectacular nothing. It may be silly to feel enraptured by what is essentially somebody’s decades old notebook doodles, but comparable with Julia’s rowdy crescendoing harshness that builds on disharmony and echoing distance of impressions, this all comes off quite moving. It’s a reminder, if nothing else, of the most fragile bits in emo and slowcore, potential of coarseness in ambient music, of some long bygone era almost. And garbage, don’t forget the garbage.
Recommended songs: “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled”, “Untitled” (maybe also “Untitled” for its 7” single potential)
*yeah yeah, avant means against, so it’s actually anti-garbage. Look if you’ve read it this far and have the energy to argue, you might as well listen to the album and figure that avant here has undergone clipping from avant-garde and then blending with garbage, so the meaning is different. Okay? Okay!