December 22, 2016 Julien-K – California Noir – Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon (Album Review)
Rising from the ashes of the Electro Rock veterans Orgy, the Long Beach, California based Synth-Wave-Rock trio Julien-K were founded in 2003 as a side project. Starting the early days in a more Rock orientated way, Julien-K developed their sound more to their New Wave and Synth Pop roots. This was without losing their trademarks of big melodies and the charismatic vocals of Ryan Shuck.
Nowadays, consisting of Ryan Shuck (vocals, guitar), Amir Derakh (programming, guitar, synths, g-synth, bass) and Anthony ‘Fu’ Valcic (programming, synths, bass), they have released three albums. Beginning with 2009’s Death to Analog, their progression continued with 2012’s We’re Here with You, followed by 2015’s California Noir: Analog Beaches & Digital Cities; the latter a concept album of the highest order. They return a year later with California Noir – Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon.
Released back on August 5, 2016, like part one, it also was financed by collecting the production costs with an Indiegogo campaign. The goal to start the production and the implementation of the neon overall-picture was to collect ten thousand US-dollars. A goal, that was reached within two hours after starting the campaign, and peaked in summary in forty three thousand dollars after the mission had ended. Produced and mixed by Derakh himself in their own Julien-K and Synthicide Studios in Long Beach with the additional engineering by Eric Stoffel, Brandon Belsky, and Nathaniel Peck, Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon is featured with a perfect and clear production.
After the short intro with “Signals in the Void,” the first track, “Spectromeda,” starts with well-known synth arpeggios and familiar melodies. It carries the song through typical Julien-K waters, where part one of the concept ended. That in mind, what was already presaged on California Noir: Analog Beaches & Digital Cities is continued consequently. It is conspicuous that Julien-K resign from heavy guitars almost completely and reduce the sound on a Synth Pop and Wave foundation. Furthermore, “Dossier” could also be penned by Depeche Mode in their strongest era, where Shuck glares with deeper vocals, that give the song the needed melancholy.
Moving on, songs like “Sunset Life” or “Mannequin Eyes” follow the same path and invite listeners to dream with its monotone beats, but effective sound-collages, beaming straight to the eighties. With “Solar,” Julien-K gets off on the right foot again with a wonderful ballad that is not too cheesy, and for sure is one of the highlights of the album. A piece that leads dream world and the atmospheric narration of Shuck, this concept runs like a thread through the album. That is why one could pick any track such as “Institution,” “Dark Cadence,” or “Framework,” where the special atmosphere is different, but in consequent way. This said, the aforementioned track sticks out with harder riffing, but also with synthetic sounding guitars. Again holding big melodies and musical hook-lines, “Temple” comes before the title-track and outro, “Nightlife in Neon,” which plays out like a movie soundtrack.
With California Noir-Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon, Julien-K will not disenthrall any fan or donor of their campaign, and at least will become manifest in the Synth Pop and Wave scene. The compelling and elegant artwork should satisfy the last skeptic, that this album is a total work of art in the genre. For these reasons, CrypticRock gives California Noir-Chapter Two: Nightlife in Neon 4.5 out of 5 stars.