Paris-based musician Julia White‘s In the Cities of Dust almost never appeared. David Teboul, the label owner at Soft Records, played an important part in finally realizing the record, eventually persuading Julia to continue with her project.
‘The weeks and months went by and I did not have any news of Julia. She finally decided to reappear to tell me that she was abandoning the music , she no longer had the strength to continue…my disappointment was great, but I was convinced of the talent of Julia …’
It’s a good thing that she did indeed continue, because In the Cities of Dust is a dynamic album of deep contrasts, slightly challenging and all the more rewarding a listen as a result. On the opener “Follow This Small Path” the piano clinks with a sharp, crystalline quality; she’s really hammering the keys here, and it subconsciously says a lot about In the Cities of Dust itself, because it’s a hard-hitting album blossoming with bravery, equally harsh and soporific, mirroring life itself.
The direct assault of dissonant discord contrasts her piano passages, actively engaging the listener in its electronic warfare. “A Forest” is a harsh, electronically-minded track that snips and rearranges a group of voices while a vicious synth grows in intensity. It’s as if the music is on the verge of a psychotic episode, unable to cope with the incessant chatter and aimless small-talk. It’s an uptight track riddled with anxiety and feels a little out of place (perhaps intentionally so), but then the birdsong and the light air of “You Found Me” provides relief as it clears away the distress with its dawn chorus. The track features Teboul under his Linear Bells alias, and it’s a beautiful interlude. A bell chimes softly in the distance. The music whispers of spring evenings and the days where it’s still light at 7. Serenely unfolding, the deep contrast at the heart of the music lends the more piano-led pieces an intended, heightened sense of beauty, and it’s used to good effect.
The deep musings and inner debates of “In The End” are accurate reflections of the self, questioning the experience of being human, along with the perceptions and emotions of life. The seagulls swoop over “Red Beach Harbour”, their cries a universal reminder of the beach and the shore. The piano plays a strong melody that broods for a time in the lower register. Persistent clouds hang over this bay, watching silently. Her playing is full of passion; each note has been filled to the brim with a sharp, distinct personality. “We Cry” brings back the darker, copper-toned synths, snaking their way over the music like tears running down the cheeks. The music can have an unforgiving streak, but it always eventually resolves into a kinder image, complete with a slight smile.
Despite all the troubles of the world, the birds still sing. In the end, it’s almost as if a tentative glimmer of peace wins. (James Catchpole)