Julia Kent - Character - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Julia Kent - Character

by Steve Rhodes Rating:7 Release Date:2013-03-04

Character is the third solo album from Canadian cellist Julia Kent, her first for the legendary Leaf label, home of excellent releases by Asa-Chang and Junray, Efterklang, Roll the Dice, and A Hawk and a Hacksaw, among others. Though relatively unknown in this country, Julia has performed on the recordings and live ensemble of Anthony of The Johnsons, and while she shares a similar aesthetic, with tinges of anguish and sadness in her instrumentation on Character, the album possesses a strong individual identity.

Opener 'Ebb' sets a sombre tone, taking a slow tempo, with layers of deep, mournful strings, occasionally interjected with lighter, plucked strings. This formula is repeated on the rather indistinguished 'Fall'. While the sound is powerful and often quite beautiful, to be replicated throughout a whole album would try anyone's patience. Thankfully, 'Transportation' shows more promise and ups the pace, with a frenetically plucked cello leading the way. The strings weave in and out of the song, again with an arc of sadness, and the sound builds, with the bowed and plucked strings almost duelling and competing for space.

'Flicker' has an olde-English feel, like Dead Can Dance influenced by Medieval literature rather than world music, or an instrumental Kate Bush at her most withdrawn. The strings maintain their melancholic state but also seem more uplifting. The track benefits strongly from a sampled backing and the most subtle of electronic beats.

'Tourbillon' similarly shares this mix of buried, sampled beats, added piano and often mournful strings. The latter adds an excellent hypnotic and driving backing, later building to a crescendoed ending which suddenly stops dead in its tracks. 'Intent' takes this further with forcefully plucked strings and weightier percussion providing the rhythm for slowly added strings which are layered and looped over the top. One of the more patient songs of the album, it neatly finishes with the sound of a chiming clock, shredded samples and fading strings.

Though repetition is a key factor and there is often just subtle differences between the songs, a number stand out. 'Only Child' maintains the heartfelt nature but is far more stripped-back and better for it. It combines the ambiance and atmosphere of Julianna Barwick and Bat for Lashes, but uses the instrumentation as a voice.

'Kingdom' takes a left-field turn, with an ominous, sample-led funereal beginning which shares an uncanny resemblance in places to the opening of Talk Talk's 'Such a Shame'. It's a bleak track, with an industrial spirit that has Coil and Throbbing Gristle as an influence and could feature on a Dario Argento horror soundtrack. But it's album closer 'Nina and Oscar' which is the highlight, a chiming light to a dark and somewhat intense album. While a fairly pedestrian tempo remains, the strings and piano feel lusher and fuller, and the feel is more optimistic. A joyous finale.

Though an instrumental album dominated by a cello would normally fit solely into the niche of an avid The Wire magazine reader, Character is far more accessible and involving than that. Yes, it's not going to set the charts alight but it is a mature, engrossing piece of work, a confident progression from Julia, with enough turns and surprises to prevent it from being a record that's simply played in the background.

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