Anglo-French singer-songwriter Julia-Sophie Walker first tasted near-mainstream fame as a member of rock band LITTLE FISH.
Signed to Island Records, this came in a time before social media and streaming took over the world. When LITTLE FISH disbanded as 2012 concluded, they evolved into the cerebral independent dreampop combo CANDY SAYS and it saw Julia-Sophie reconnecting with her Gallic roots.
But with the disillusionment of Brexit and her musical past, the Oxford-based musician began working independently and adopting modern-day DIY production techniques.
The end result has been music of an artier electronic bent with a Franco-driven focus to make music for the sake of making music to attain her artistic fulfilment. With an IAMAMWHOAMI style of cryptic hushed engagement, her first EPs 2020’s ‘y?’ (‘why?’) and 2021’s ‘</3’ (‘heartbroken’) issued respectively in 2020 and 2021 have now been compiled as the debut Julia-Sophie album by Third Kind Records who were also the label behind the release of the debut long player by Hattie Cooke.
Composed while in a state of personal crisis, the ‘y?’ half is full of depth, hazy but emotional and dark yet strangely spirited. In asking the question “why?”, ‘breathe’ is shaped by a sparse backdrop of percussive noise and drones, as Julia-Sophie allows her voice to shine before a sumptuous arpeggio kicks in and the remainder of the song expands.
Utilising a frenetic off-kilter set of pulses as a rhythmic centre, ‘x0x’ is an emotive avant pop statement as a forlorn Julia-Sophie declares “nobody wants me here”; and when it changes pace and takes a Gallic turn, its obscure mantra makes for compelling listening.
With a wonderful cacophony of delightfully odd sequences, ‘i told you everything’ acts as an instrumental interlude while in some ways a conventional break-up song, ‘i left you’ is arranged as an absorbing slice of folktronica, with scattered synthesis running in and out of the aural spectrum.
Into the ‘</3’ half, the confessional continues the evolution. Themed around heartbreak, ‘and you know it’ asks “are you happy?” before proceedings move into an unexpected exercise in electro-jazzy two step.
Playing with glitch and an icy variant of mutant bossa nova, the lengthy ‘cctv’ is beautiful yet unsettling, but it then diverts into an experimental arpeggio that mesmerises in its layered weirdness. Utilising a speedy machine beat, ‘i wish’ is an eerie showcase for Julia-Sophie’s airy vocals asking “what do you want from me?” as the kaleidoscopic setting of synths and voice samples hypnotise.
Pitched up and at various frequencies, more vocal samples and manipulations shape the start of ‘love let you down’ before Julia-Sophie emotes her vulnerability and tearful heartbreak; “I want to see us love again” she pleads before the voices slowly melt into the backdrop.
By experimenting with song structures, synthetic beats and widescreen atmospheres to soundtrack her fear of rejection, Julia-Sophie has presented an intricate and intriguing collection of elegant avant pop in ‘y? + </3 //’.
The recently issued ‘it feels like thunder’ EP begins a new trilogy and another journey but for now, here is an opportunity to hear how it all began.
The ‘y? + </3 //’ double EP is released on 4th November 2022 by Third Kind Records as a pink vinyl LP and download, pre-order via https://juliasophie.bandcamp.com/album/y-3-double-ep
Text by Chi Ming Lai
28th October 2022