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Julian Lynch - Rat’s Spit Music Album Reviews

On his first album since joining Real Estate, the hesitant singer and lavish sound artist at last puts those elements on equal footing with his songwriting.

At least historically, it wasn’t surprising when Julian Lynch became Real Estate’s new guitarist in 2016: He and the band’s founders were childhood pals from New Jersey. Though Lynch had relocated to Wisconsin to study ethnomusicology, they’d remained close, releasing records on the label Underwater Peoples and sharing a loose scene. But after firing guitarist Matt Mondanile due to allegations of sexual assault, Real Estate needed a replacement, and Lynch was not only free but also familiar as both friend and guitarist. Musically, however, it made for a strange fit. On his own records, Lynch always seemed amorphous and slippery. His debut, Orange You Glad, turned something like chillwave into a collage, while Mare mixed warped soundscapes with brief bursts of lush instrumentation. It was a mesmerizing experiment at the intersection of acoustics and electronics, but country miles from Real Estate’s backlit guitar reveries.

Lynch has returned at last to records of his own with his first album in six years, Rat’s Spit. Much like the pop of Brian Eno, Lynch delicately blends buzzing electric guitar with a newfound lucidity, his looped acoustics and muffled drums underscoring his soft voice. “Catapulting,” for instance, is a warm and measured start, with Lynch mirroring the melody with careening guitar solos flown in by Here Come the Warm Jets. “Hexagonal Field” has the pulsing percussive undercurrent of Eno’s “St. Elmo’s Fire.” The songs are wound tightly but never suffocating, the compositions busy but never finicky. They’re more adherent to familiar song structures than his previous records, too, as Lynch uses melody to map the movement of these pieces.

In the past, Lynch would go to great lengths to shroud himself in effects or bury himself beneath instruments. On 2013’s “Yawning,” he was almost indistinguishable from the accordion-driven pulse, betraying a startlingly self-conscious approach. Lynch’s music has always been foregrounded in a love of sound, sometimes at the expense of the songs they tried to shape; he would float through tunes rather than push them forward. At times on Rat’s Spit, Lynch is still reticent, but his voice—and his understanding of how to use it as an accent and tool—has evolved. During the muddled noise-pop jam “Peanut Butter,” his singing matches the instrumental timbre and buzzes with the same electricity as the pounding pace.

Many of these songs begin or end in media res, but Lynch fills in the missing pieces with colorful flourishes, like the hummed melody of “Peanut Butter” or the way it occasionally slows, as if a metronome has faltered. On “Strawberry Cookies,” the isolated drops of a rainstick make for a quixotic rhythmic trick, highlighting Lynch’s contemplative tune. He drenches his voice in effects until he becomes an unironic counterpart to Enya. The best and boldest track on the album, it is spiritual in its exploration of the unknown but never mawkish.

For Lynch, Rat’s Spit is an updated statement of intent and confidence, a declaration from an artist who often opted for a whisper. Lynch can be heard loud and (sometimes) clear here, floating among ideas that he finally allows to breathe. Despite the traces of anxiety written into the lines he sings, it’s a welcome respite when so much else has turned to smog.

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