Friday Night's Julian Lynch Show as a Microcosm of Suburban New Jersey, Enduring High School Friendships, and the Undying, Irritating Myth of Beach Pop
Julian Lynch, La Big Vic, Campfires, and Ducktails
Friday, July 30
Julian Lynch played at Glasslands on Friday night on a bill with some old friends. It was a rare New York performance for the Ridgewood, New Jersey-born musician, who lives in Madison, Wisconsin and hates touring. Organized by SOTC-contributor Georgia Kral, the night opened with a set by a band called La Big Vic, which includes Emilie Friedlander, New York editor of Pitchfork's new site Altered Zones and a longtime supporter of Ducktails and Lynch. Also on the bill was Ducktails, helmed by Real Estate guitarist Matt Mondanile, a guy Lynch has been playing in bands with since high school.
Unlike Lynch, Mondanile moved back to Ridgewood after he graduated from college, and these days he regularly plays shows in New York either as Ducktails or Real Estate. Like about a dozen other kids who grew up playing music in the North Jersey suburbs and have stayed in the area, Mondanile is a fixture here. Lately he has been on tour with the muddy but sometimes glorious shoegaze band Big Troubles--younger Ridgewood kids who were just starting high school when Lynch and Mondanile were performing with their marvelous, Elvis Costello-inspired bands the Enormous Radio and Lese Majesty. Big Troubles played second on Friday, but most of them came back to the stage at least once later in the evening to accompany Mondanile and Lynch.
That happened a lot on Friday, people coming up onstage and accompanying each other. During La Big Vic's last song, Lynch was called up to improvise something on his clarinet. He didn't know which song they wanted him to play with them, he said beforehand, but he knew what key it was in so wasn't really worried. Two guys who played in Paperface, the first band Lynch was ever in, stood toward the back of the cavernous Williamsburg space while Alex Bleeker from Real Estate--who also played in Lese Majesty during high school and took guitar lessons from the same guy as Mondanile and Lynch--walked around in his trademark baseball cap and shorts. Amy Ruhl, who directed a music video for Lynch and whose new movie he is writing music for, chatted outside in between sets with a Bushwick blogger known as PopJew, who recently named Lynch number one on her list of "cutest boys in rock'n'roll." Hovering around the merch stand on and off all night was an athletically affable goofball from Ridgewood named Evan Brody, who co-founded the record label Underwater Peoples and has recently put out a 7" single by Lynch.
Brody's label, which he runs with fellow Jersey-dweller Ari Stern and two other friends from college, was pretty much built to put out records by people who grew up in Ridgewood and the neighboring town of Glen Rock. With the help of some influential admirers on the staff of Pitchfork--among them the prolific mp3-poster and Ridgewood native Larry Fitzmaurice--it has asserted itself as one of the least avoidable labels currently operating in Brooklyn.
Lynch is not really a part of all that, which is appropriate enough given how much everyone in his orbit seems to admire his gifts. It's a longstanding thing, according to his friends and former bandmates. "Those early Julian recordings were really important to a lot of us," said Andrew Cedermark, who played shows with Lynch throughout high school, by phone recently. Cedermark, who now lives in Charlottesville, is putting out an album on Underwater Peoples in a few weeks, and is as much a satellite to the North Jersey scene as Lynch is. "Julian has sort of been a force that has loomed over all the music that we've been making for a while, in that he's always been a step beyond craft-wise. The earliest Enormous Radio songs were just like, pop perfection, like Phil Spector-esque in their concision and precision. It always felt totally beyond what most of the rest of us were doing."
Lynch was the first guy in that New Jersey crew to record a bunch of instruments over each other rather than just having someone singing along to a guitar. He was the first to try to "put out" an album and burn copies of it. When the boys all went on tour for the first time ever, it was to play his songs the summer after their sophomore year in college. Now he lives far away, working towards a PhD in ethnomusicology at Madison, and comes to the East Coast only twice a year. His jones for Beach Boys-style harmonies expired while he was in college, during a year studying abroad in Scotland when he got turned on to experimental music and noise and lost interest in writing hooks.
For a time his recordings were not songs at all: the best of them could be described as understated but tensely expressive sound experiments. His more recent work--Mare and his last album, Orange You Glad--splits the difference, in that the melodies are there but you can't hear them right away. He doesn't really identify with the beachy suburban themes his old associates in Real Estate are so well known for, nor does he appreciate it when people say his music is nostalgic.
"The whole thing that's big now is you listen to a song and you say it's beachy or it reminds you of something and you glue this emotion to sound," Lynch said on Friday, during a trip to the deli in between sets. "I like the idea that I could make this sound that to someone else was abrasive and they hated it and it made them feel uncomfortable, but makes me really happy."
People didn't always get it. "I had this struggle when I was first releasing records under my own name where people were like, 'Beach pop, beach pop, it's all about the beach! He loves the summer, he loves the beach, he loves the ocean, he loves the Jersey Shore, he loves New Jersey.' I could write a song called "The Beach" and the lyrics could be, 'I fucking hate the beach, I fucking hate the beach, I fucking hate the beach,' only I could say it in a way that people can't understand the lyrics and I use, like, wah wah guitar, and they'd be like, 'This guy fucking loves the beach so much.'"
On Friday night, watching Lynch's songs performed live with Evan Brody and a few of the Big Troubles guys playing backup, it was easy to see that the backbone of what he's doing, even the stuff that is completely impenetrable to someone who is accustomed to pop songs, is not so far off from what Lynch was good at as a kid. The songs worked improbably well in the hands of a rock quartet--a testament to the fluency of Lynch's arrangements but also the quick wits of his temporary bandmates, who learned the songs over just two practices two weeks ago. The night ended with a smiley, triumphal encore in which Mondanile and Bleeker and Sam Franklin from Big Troubles joined Lynch on stage and played through a song called "Droplet on a Hot Stone."
The three of them were supposed to share a bill again tomorrow night for a show in Matt Mondanile's backyard in Ridgewood, but unfortunately Mondanile's mother discovered plans for the concert while Googling her son over the weekend and ordered him to call it off.