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Julia Kent's haunting "Character" and Majestic's gentle "The Majestic 12 Years"
You are most certainly welcome to psychoanalyze this: a few songs regularly, uncontrollably and inexplicably play in this writer’s head, including “No Easy Way Down,” “Macarena” and the string quartet track “Lux Aeterna” by Clint Mansell, better known as the ominous theme from the film Requiem for a Dream. This last track is perhaps like a daily warning to be careful or else one might lose a limb, be carnally humiliated or unwittingly get electro-shock therapy. It is this track that immediately comes to mind when listening to the album Character by Julia Kent, also known as a former member of Rasputina and a cellist for Antony and the Johnsons. The general mood of the album is a haunting and foreboding one, simultaneously somber and tense; more often than not, it doesn’t steal the listener’s attention, but instead it broods and lurks in the shadows.
The album’s methodology includes simple patterns and loops of plucked and bowed notes, with nothing that is particularly technically challenging; this writer wishes it had more moments that were striking, but as-is, it could serve has good soundtrack music. On the first half, “Flicker” provides string-tone meshes accompanied by a faint drum machine and piano flourishes, while “Tourbillon” (which is French for “whirlwind”) hints at a revelatory conclusion while ramping upwards but doesn’t quite carry out its promise. Fortunately, the second half gets more interesting, with tracks including “Kingdom,” with a two-chord minimalism that evokes a horror film score with ghostly, atmospheric wisps, and perhaps the album’s finest track, “Nina and Oscar,” with guitar harmonics and a string ensemble to lightly suggest the fog of mystery. This writer isn’t quite sure of Kent’s intentions on Character, but much of it—while well recorded yet not too stimulating—is like a suspense film without a shocking payoff.
The Majestic 12 Years 1994-1998
This compilation of the underground pop band Majestic 12—later renamed as Majestic after singer Jana Wittren departed for The Arrogants—stirs up a ’90s-indie-pop nostalgia for this writer, who recollects that time when the standard price for a 7-inch single was just $3. He clearly recalls being charmed by Majestic 12, watching the group’s low-budget video “Nothing on TV” on a VHS video compilation he ordered by sending a check through the mail—yes, children, this is what we had to do back then. Nowadays, guitarist/singer Scott Schultz is best known as a co-founder of the children’s TV show Yo Gabba Gabba!, and the collection at hand won’t offer many clues regarding Schultz’s aesthetic for that show.
Majestic 12 had a dreamy sophistication, with dual vocals from Wittren and Schultz, both of whom rarely raised their voices louder than a reserved, wistful delivery. The songs are earnest and gentle—bringing to mind the British label Sarah Records—although tracks like “Closer,” which features meatier-than-usual rock outbursts, demonstrate that mannerly doesn’t mean wimpy.
The Majestic 12 Years 1994-1998 compiles the seven tracks from three vinyl singles and adds six unreleased songs, and casual listeners would do just fine with the highlights, of which there are several, including “Lost and Found,” which is the epitome of the group’s admiration for the band Galaxie 500 (note: there’s also a track named “Galaxie”) with a rhythm section that could have come straight from On Fire, tender guitar strumming with a tremolo effect and a guitar solo from the Dean Wareham stylebook. But the obvious song to fall in love to is “Nothing on TV,” with alternating girl/boy vocals, brush-struck drums, and an unabashed romanticism with the heart-melting whisper of “I’ll meet you halfway there.” This music has held up fine over 15 years, and the collection is the perfect length; the band had gone just as far as it could likely go with its bag of ideas under the Majestic 12 name.