Julia Shapiro - Perfect Version - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Julia Shapiro - Perfect Version

by Mark Moody Rating:7 Release Date:2019-06-14
Julia Shapiro - Perfect Version
Julia Shapiro - Perfect Version

Over the course of their almost ten year history, Seattle band Chastity Belt have done a lot of growing up - both musically and in the dreaded specter of “real life”.  Unfortunately, progressing from teens in college to their near 30s comes with its fair share of bumps in the road.  Last Spring the band cancelled their tour in support of the lauded I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone, due to health considerations.  The album’s title also proved to foreshadow lead singer/guitarist Julia Shapiro’s retreat to solitude in the further face of a broken relationship. 

After a year spent woodshedding and taking inventory, Shapiro has emerged with her first solo album, Perfect Version.  In a further nod to isolationism, Shapiro effectively played all instruments, recorded and mixed the album by herself.  Given the landscape that inspired it, it’s not surprising that Perfect Version continues the path of maturity and introspection that the band had started down.  Shapiro meticulously layers on gauzy swaths of guitars, distant drums, and hushed vocals, including adding on her own harmonies on songs such as the title track.

Album opener, and single, ‘Natural’ sounds the most like her band with its arpeggioed guitar runs, but lyrically points to singularly taking stock - “I’ll feel new again, I’ll be my own best friend”.  The song has the confessional feel and sound of Lindsay Jordan’s (Snail Mail) earliest bedroom recordings, but from an adult’s point of view.  The other fuller sounding songs on the album include the churning ‘I Lied’ where Shapiro reveals the album’s theme in the chorus.  “It’s a riot, laughing and crying” she intones.  Reading the line feels almost a punk-like affront, but in Shapiro’s delivery it becomes more of a realistic mantra.  While the underlying power chords of ‘A Couple Highs’ give the song its heft, the admission of “…hit a lot of lows and a couple highs” lays out the underlying tone of the album. 

Most of the songs on Perfect Version, though carefully constructed, are more stripped down and stark.  The acoustically underpinned ‘Parking Lot’ makes for one of the most beautiful moments on the album but also seems to point to the circumstances that prompted the band’s touring hiatus.  More downcast moments serve to highlight the low points that Shapiro has had to struggle with.  ‘Shape’ shares a shimmery melodic strain with The National’s ‘Guest Room’, while also sharing a longing for the simplicity of earlier times.  As if it were a snap of the fingers to invoke  the “lightness of being” Shapiro knows is the key. 

Hopefully the time spent writing and recording Perfect Version helps Shapiro get to a smoother path.  You get the sense there is at least a hint of irony in the title song’s declaration that “all my problems feel like paper, I can finally rip them up”, and if it were that easy melancholy albums like this wouldn’t exist.  For ages artists have used all manner of media to try and work through their struggles.  Not only does that result in great art, but in spite of the singular acts that create them such works will resonate with others.  Even if we can’t all get real with ourselves in public like Shapiro does here, all can benefit from it.  Perfect Version pulses with a downbeat rhythm that at its heart acknowledges that the desire to feel better is half the battle.    

Note:  Rumor has it (from a local show that sadly I couldn’t attend) that Chastity Belt is not only still together, but already has a new album either recorded or well in the works.  They seem to be the type of group that have each other’s backs, so great to see them carrying on.  They have also just announced a run of dates in Europe/UK in October and the US in November.


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