Sound — 8
It's been a long time coming, but I'm back with a vengeance. After several months' hiatus and many writing endeavors in between, I'm ready to continue my hobby as a UG critic. This time, however, I'm taking a break from my reviews of classic rock and delving into the Electronic genre. Surprising as it may be, I do indeed listen to more than rock. So, the band. For me personally, it all started with a couple of games from two Sonic the Hedgehog games, but that's irrelevant to the band's history for the most part. For the thrill of it, I'll say that those familiar with the games will know "This Machine" from Sonic Heroes and "Waking Up" from Shadow the Hedgehog. For the band itself, our story starts with a little platinum-selling industrial group called Orgy. From this group stemmed a side-project called "Julien K" for no reason. It was in the same vein as Orgy, with a tad more influence on the electronic side of industrial electrock. After years of discreet song releases and doing some stuff for SEGA, Julien K finally announced an album release was due in 2009, and we were presented with 'Death to Analog.' So, let's talk a bit about this album. Coming from a group like Julien K, I'm sure you'd expect to hear a sound not dissimilar to something from a Nine Inch Nails release, and while there are certainly similarities, I can tell you that this is nothing like NIN or Orgy. We open with "Death to Analog," which gives us a tastes of good old electronic before diving into a harder rock chorus. The mixture of dance and angsty rock chords is perfect, and the remainder of the song does not disappoint. Tracks like "Someday Soon" and "Kick the Bass" present a more rock-influenced sound, albeit with a tasty mixture clearly electronic-inspired. You hear things throughout the record which come out of nowhere, but mesh perfectly with the sound JK has created for this release. "Technical Difficulties" was featured on the soundtrack to the first Transformers film. "Systeme de Sexe" is one of my personal favorites; a creepingly sinful beat and quite an arousing tone overall. "Legs as white as sugar," the singer croons, "Candy on the windowsill." And the French chick alone is worth the ticket to ride. "Maestro," "Forever," and "Spiral" are very good, but not notable. Interestingly, we are presented with a cover of Romeo Void's "Never Say Never," which is exceptional, even for a cover. It's very much Julien K; the Romeo Voidness melts away almost completely. "Dystopian Girl" follows with a great beat and instantly makes itself known as one of the better tracks on the record; a smooth riff to boot lets us know that this second half makes up for the iffy middle tracks. "Look at U" is known amongst Julien K fans, and is within the top three best songs. In many ways, the rock is the hardest here, but the electronic/industrial matches in strength. "Stranded" and "Disease" are lighter, but as good as "Dystopian" and "Kick the Bass." Both present exceptional choruses and are laced with great guitars and God knows how many other insane techno/electronic instruments. My favorite track on the record is the closer, "Futura." The synthesized riff is literally two or three notes, but is undeniably catchy. The wailing siren comes in and the beat intensifies, and then the cooing vocals and other effects come in and impress. A strong ending to an exciting record. The sound of this record is pretty solid, all things considered; not once did I really think "Stolen from Orgy" or "I wonder if this came from NIN's dumpster?" No, instead the record was true to the first impression I got with "Waking Up" and the like - solid sound which I can expect Juliek K to continue innovating. Even for those who lack the savvy of a hardcore electronic/a fan, this is a great listen and will almost always leave you wishing you liked the genre. It certainly introduced me to a new side of music. However, this record, like any other, is not without its flaws. The first and third sections of the album act as bookends, with the middle being infested with second-rate literature (Twilight) and the like. Granted, "Spiral" and kin aren't awful tracks, they just fail to excite me as much as some of the others. 8/10. Did I mention that Chester Bennington executive-produced this?
Lyrics — 8
Apart from obvious genre-specific details like "techno/electronic/industrial/rock," I can use one word to describe this album: sexy. From chilling vocals to smooth techno riffs, this album positively drips with dark emotions and the lust that only so many artists can make believable. This isn't to say that the theme of the album is sex, but the vibe is sensual and smooth enough to impress even Billy Dee Williams. Lyrics seep with an intensity I rarely see from artists who take themselves as seriously as Julien K, with only the occasional slipup and the fact that a couple of my favorite lines come from "Nvr Say Nvr." Despite the fact that they're only "okay," the middle ground tracks are exceptional where vocals and lyrics are concerned, if not perfect. Nothing on the album is necessarily Tom Waits or Bob Dylan, but passes for a debut from a band no one knows about but those who saw them live with Evanescence. The singer - whom I can't be bothered to identify by name - has an exceptional voice for a baritone/tenor, and knows when to scream and when to cool things down with a silkier croon. Here and there, I catch a tiny bit of Chester Bennington. The most specific example I can give is the "Just go away" line in "Maestro." Overall, however, an impressive lineup.
Overall Impression — 8
As previously reviewed bands like Damone and Over It have shown, sometimes the lesser knowns turn out to be some of the greats. Julien K presents an innovative sound, solid lyrics and vocals, and a tracklist which is flawed but very, very good. It's hard for me to believe plastic pop "stars" like Justin Whatshisface and crap like that dominates the charts, whereas the release of 'Death to Analog' could best be described as discreet. Nevertheless, promotion is what gets artists places, which is why I'm here. I do recommend this album. I recommend it more than I'd recommend a fair few, especially in the year 2009. Excluding the cover, tracks which excel include "Someday Soon," "Systeme de Sexe," and "Futura." The innovation and mixture of elements from several genres makes for not only an impressive electronic/rock/industrial record, but a great new sound which brings techno and electronic out of the pooper where so many people assume it rests. The only peeves I have are the mediocre tracks which trace the middle portion and a few moments which really are "too Chester." Luckily, the music itself is nothing like Linkin Park. This record is worth it. It really is. This is the release of 2009 you've been missing out on. As many great records as there may have been, this should have had a wider release, and I hope Julien K will get the attention they deserve someday soon. Rimshot, anyone?