May 12, 2015 Julien-K – California Noir, Chapter One – Analog Beaches & Digital Cities (Album Review)
Primarily founded as a side-project in 2003, the Long Beach, California based Electro/Synth band Julien-K was formed by Amir Derakh (guitar/bass/programming/synths/percussion) and Ryan Shuck (vocals/guitar) due to different artistic visions for their main band, Orgy. Rather than scrap their song ideas, Derakh and Shuck decided to move forward with Julien K and the multi-instrumentalists launched the project with a new drummer and keyboardist, sadly never being invited back to join Orgy when the band relaunched in 2010. Keeping their musical aspirations alive, adding other permanent member, Anthony ‘Fu’ Valcic (Programming/Synths /bass), Julien-K has released two full-length albums and a slew of EPs. Releasing their full-length debut album, Death to Analog, in 2009, it went straightaway to #10 in the Billboard Dance/Electronic Charts, while the single “Kick the Bass” climbed to #24 on the Billboard Dance/Club Chart. A worldwide charting success, the current Julien-K members also collaborated with Chester Bennington of Linkin Park under the flag of the project Dead By Sunrise, with the 2009 release Out of Ashes. Independent of a record label, Julien K announced plans for a double concept album in 2014, and released a three song EP last November as a sample tasting for fans. Now, as of March 27th, the band has released their third studio album, and the first part of the concept series, titled California Noir, Chapter One – Analog Beaches & Digital Cities. With an Indiegogo campaign to fund the album, the goal of collecting ten thousand dollars was reached after one day, which proves Julien-K’s popularity and the hunger of their fans for new material.
The story of California Noir describes an aesthetic lifestyle, “the soundtrack to your dreams and hallucinations,” to quote the band’s statement. California Noir is a journey through synthetic soundscapes with the high-hit potential fans have been craving. Presented with plain and tasteful cover art, Julien K kicks off the album with the electro-instrumental intro track “Analog Beaches & Digital Cities.” Following thereafter, “Strange Invisible“ shows immediately the beauty of California Noir without open-ended questions. Featuring ’80s synth melodies haunted by Shuck’s vocal hook lines and Placebo-like instrumentation, the sound drills into the ear-canal, with the combination turning out to be the band’s trademark also in the following song “Photo Voltaire.” This can be felt vividly as well on the album title track, which may remind some of the aforementioned Placebo or even Coldplay. Nevertheless, the band put their own distinctive touch on the music.
The track “Black Market Machines” shows another side of the band before making a 180-degree turnaround with the disharmonic and electronic “Deep Beat Overground,” that will rough-up every Alternative Dance temple and cause tremors wherever it may be spun. In contrast, “Cast into the Sea” calms the mood down and shows the enormous diversity Analog Beaches & Digital Cities has to offer. With more soft electronic textures, “She’s a Pretender” will send listeners into another stratosphere as Shuck’s voice remains smooth and inviting. This comes before a more update abbreviated tune, “No You Can’t,” where Julien K combined an infectious bassline that will have New Wave lovers salivating for more. Closing out the album, “Eviscerate” is an outstanding tack which will hook every Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet fan into ecstasy with its extraordinary, soul-influenced female vocals in the chorus.
California Noir, Chapter One – Analog Beaches & Digital Cities is Julien-K’s most adult and mainstream suitable album to date. Coming out of a mold influenced by ’80s Synth-Pop bands, Julien-K manages to take the next step in their career to introduce their sound to mainstream audiences. Now fans wait to see this work as one big picture when California Noir – Chapter Two is unleashed. Job well done by Julien-K who stay true to their artistic integrity rather than compromise for trends. CrypticRock gives California Noir, Chapter One – Analog Beaches & Digital Cities 4 out of 5 stars.