Graded on a Curve: Juleah,
Melt Inside the Sun

Austrian Julia Hummer issues her music under the moniker Juleah, and utilizing minimal assistance she conjures melodic psychedelia with attention paid to vocals and guitar. A digital album and a pair of EPs shape up her catalog, and now she’s back with full-length Melt Inside the Sun via Konkord Records. Featuring ten songs primed to please fans of Mazzy Star as they wield a palpable sense of urgency and low-key breadth, it’s available on limited edition vinyl and CD through Konkord in Europe and Rough Trade in the US.

Some acts offer biographical info so detailed it becomes possible to follow dietary trajectories and chart recent television viewing habits. That’s not the case with Juleah. She’s not striving for mystery, as Julia Hummer maintains an active Facebook page that establishes her hometown as Vorarlberg and includes an interview revealing she wrote her first song in 2011. Yet it’s also clear she prefers to let those songs do the talking.

The effect isn’t standoffish however; her website announces the release of Melt Inside the Sun, offers a succinct but adequate description from her label, embeds a YouTube video for good measure and contains the expected social media and purchasing links. Upon inspection, her sonic wares are fairly certain to procure a growing listener base.

Psychedelic pop-rock of an indie persuasion has proven to be surprisingly enduring stylistic territory, and Juleah’s brand of such harkens back to Shoegaze and the Paisley Underground, though Hummer isn’t especially studious in her gleanings; the voice and guitar are definitely comparable to Sandoval and Roback, but the heft and propulsion reinforce professed influences ranging from Oasis, The Stone Roses, and Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, to Spacemen 3, The Doors, and the Jefferson Airplane.

Juleah first emerged in ’12 with a self-titled 4-song EP, but ‘13’s Shimmering Road really got the ball rolling through lively execution and the big guitar and poised vocals that comprise the main components of her sound. Just as important alongside bluesy edge, crisp desert atmospheres and the employment of wah-pedals is an obvious lack of anxiety over said influences.

Folks will gather with little delay whether Juleah belongs in their personal bag; less likely will be dismissals due to tentativeness. And her confidence noticeably flourished in a pretty brief span of time, as the ’13 EP “Entangled and Entwined” was more vivid, flaunted stronger writing, and effectively masked its origins as a one-person project; its six tunes brought praise from the NME, maybe not a shocker given her chosen genre, but still impressive considering the crowdedness of the current musical spectrum.

Hummer has distinguished Melt Inside the Sun as her first “real” album, and while Shimmering Road ain’t chopped liver, who am I to argue? Perhaps the demarcation relates to the multi-format release of her latest, but I kinda suspect it pertains to the nagging sense of self-dissatisfaction that drives artists to continue traveling down the path of creation.

The title-track opens the record. A glistening guitar line is joined in short order by tough echo-tinged rhythmic momentum and quickly followed by Hummer’s drawl, sultry yet forceful and meshing well with the resonance of her strumming. But “Melt Inside the Sun” is most significant in subtle dynamic shifts that find her voice momentarily dropping out.

The better to spotlight her instrumental acumen; as stated, Juleah is far from a groundbreaking proposition, and as an extender of a well-known sound Hummer places the large hook front and center right out of the starting gate. Notably, she doesn’t play the chanteuse card too heavily, for on “Wild Machine” the singing brandishes swagger borrowed from male models.

It’s a line traversing back to Lou Reed, and one nicely-matched with quivering string sustain and a general impression of ‘80s neo-psych. It’s also a somewhat concise number, and tidier is the minute’s worth of bluesy National Steel-ish slinging that makes up “Flower Gunshot.” It provides welcome diversity while remaining in the basic Paisley U-ground neighborhood and effectively serves as a prelude to more fully fleshed-out rock climes.

“Covers and Shells” features robust drum thump, springy riffing, and understated guest organ from Rene Sala, who additionally lent a bit of drums and mellotron to Melt Inside the Sun and helped mix and master six of its selections; the effervescent track connects with the vigor of a full band. And even sweeter is Hummer’s playing on the suitably lengthy “Strom Aus Licht.” Sounding instantly familiar upon opening, the tune examines a bluesy motif distinct from “Flower Gunshot” as her interjections intermittently enhance the overall glide.

More vocally forthright is “Beautiful for You,” though in fact her breathy, layered technique is appropriately enveloped in chiming guitar and a loping rhythm continuing to strengthen ties to a cadre of ‘80s Brit bands, units that had a field day cribbing from psych precedent and the cool of VU. Interestingly, while retaining druggy elements, the uptempo “On a Float, Together” exudes hints of ‘80s indie pop, particularly in the guitar department.

Considerably more languid in a Mazzy Star way is “To Miss.” Smartly, Hummer approaches the setting from a folk angle suggesting but not overdoing a picturesque back porch located somewhere in Appalachia. Picking up the pace, “Sommertraum” retains a touch of what I can only refer to as Americana through the use of banjo. Sala’s airy mellotron folds in ample psych coloration.

This leaves the sprightly riff-rock of “Love Psychosis” as a decidedly no-big deal finale with nuances toward Adult Alternative/MOR of all things. It might read like a misstep but no, the maneuver actually works, mainly because it further broadens the context of Juleah’s present output and makes plain that Hummer has a variety of options and untapped potential moving forward.

Personally, I’m hoping for more in the mode of “Strom Aus Licht,” but won’t deny the possibilities of “On a Float, Together,” “Sommrtraum,” and indeed even “Love Psychosis.” What initially seems a tasty bone tossed into the salivating choppers of genre converts possesses a sly undercurrent of crossover appeal; Juleah’s Melt Inside the Sun is a quietly rewarding LP.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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