Julia Reidy: World Around the World Album Review

At the start of Julia Reidy’s new album, world in the world, the Berlin-based Australian multi-instrumentalist and producer makes brief sweeps across the strings of his electric guitar, each note ringing against the next at odd angles, like alien electrons bouncing through the thermosphere. Just as the sound of an orchestral tuning reassures an audience of quality control, Reidy’s strums and plucks offer guarantees of intrigue, a promise you’ve rarely heard a guitar sound like. Pedals cycle on and off, their pops framing an accidental beat as their electronic rumble unfolds and recedes. Reidy repeats this ostensible warm-up — prismatic notes, pop pedals, buzzing sounds — until you barely notice you’ve slipped into the opening title track. Distorted chords and distant vocals shape a meditative anthem, as if bent by playful mirrors; you might soon be humming, even if the sound is unfamiliar.

Reidy’s recent work, especially the spellbinding one from 2020 Vanish, have used the guitar as a springboard for immersive and daring art-pop universes, like Julia Holter facing diorama canvases. But for these nine subtle, intimate tracks, they largely stick to pensive guitar ruminations, the electronics accentuating some phrases and Reidy’s spectral voice seeming to haunt others. world in the world is a solo guitar album in the style of, say, William Tyler Here is the Spirit is a solo guitar album, Mary Lattimore’s Hundreds of days is a solo harp album, or that of Nils Frahm The spaces is a solo keyboard album. The guitar is Reid’s gateway to broader sonic explorations on the path to emotionally expressive idiosyncrasy.

For world in the world, Reidy played a custom guitar built by innovative instrument designer and engineer Sukandar Kartadinata, whose past projects included a “data fiddle” and ways to better integrate digital software into analog instruments. Reidy’s request, however, was incredibly practical: an electric guitar with moveable frets and “fretlets”, to allow for a wide range of very precise tunings. Reidy wanted to play in just intonation, which means that the ratio of notes are whole numbers, rather than the irrational divisions of equal temperament, the reigning system in Western composition. For Reidy’s purposes, the precisely tuned guitar repurposes familiar picking or strumming patterns until you feel like you’re hearing them for the first time. Reidy capitalizes on this sense of novelty, making blues and ballads sound novel.

Talking about just intonation can sometimes be proudly academic, with the details of specific systems acting as theoretical moats. But Reidy operates more on intuition than ideological devotion in the setting. “I try to treat it like a tool,” Reidy said in an email, “but I’m not very keen on logic or precision…I like to establish systems and then fuck with them .” You might hear the mournful syncopation of John Fahey in “World in World” or perhaps the Delta blues during the spectacular and lively “Loom”. These unusual and personal chords, however, delightfully dodge easy interpretation. Every move of Reidy shimmers in a special way, so even ordinary guitar gestures become mutated and weird.

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