Soliloquy buzzes like an overgrown electronic garden. Delicate white and blue flowers shoot up, barely clearing stands of dew-speckled shrubbery, while thorny bushes and grasping vines snake out along the brush-crowded walkways. Insects flit to and fro and are gone, indiscernible. The air is heavy, thick with humidity and the scent of wet plant matter. And through it all, Judith Juillerat strolls, ducking overhanging branches and occasionally pruning here and there while humming lightly to herself. And then in a low voice, almost a whisper at times, she recites somber poetry, her accented voice standing out against the teaming plant life around her. It’s a mess, but it’s a vibrant mess, and one that could perhaps be beautiful with a little more care.
Hailing from Besançon, France, Juillerat climbed onto the world musical stage last year when she won a Unicef-run Björk remix contest with a sparse, ominous version of “Army of Me”, included on this album. Though she has been composing her peculiar brand of electronic sounds using a variety of synthesizers, samplers, and other hardware (no computers appear on this album) for 10 years now, Soliloquy is her debut, out now on Germany’s Shitkatapult label.
Juillerat’s work essentially falls into alternating instrumental and vocal tracks. In both, her general approach is the same, beginning simply and gradually fleshing out the full garden of sounds as she goes, but the vocal tracks seem to be somewhat clipped back and restrained in this regard, keeping focus on her words. This is perhaps unfortunate, as her repetitive, emotionless spoken vocals seem incapable of carrying the songs. Often panned into odd alternation between the speakers, the vague monologues can be little more than distraction from the more interesting surges of static and flocks of digital birds beneath them. The vocals seem to work best when employed most abstractly, becoming simply another component sound in the collage, as in the creepy, increasingly distorted pledge of allegiance in “Mes Nuits Sont Plus Belles Que Vos Jours” (a comment on recent U.S. with-us-or-against-us world politics?) and the spectral chorus line of “Apple of Your Eye”.
The most compelling pieces, however, are the fully formed instrumental builds. Juillerat’s pieces all seem to live and breath unpredictably on their own, but this effect is never as complete as in the digital insect-whir-and-frog-call soup of “Pond Life”, while the more typically slow-building “Forget Me Not” works on the tension between clear piano melodies and an array of controlled feedback, synthetic squeals, and scratchy chord sweeps. The closing track, “Le Jour Se Lève Dans Cinq Immenses Secondes”, may be the simplest, with simple layered piano over the sound rushing surf (the real natural world supplanting the ersatz at last) for a gentle, subtle closing.
This is an album pinned between its strengths and weaknesses. The chaotic green-growth noise-collage is just restrained enough to be songlike, but still feels haphazard and overgrown, with a loss of focus and clarity that makes picking out the pieces difficult at times. The vocals work in a few cases, but make little contribution in others, only pulling the ear away from the textures underpinning them. It’s an interesting debut—promising, even, with its novel approach—but not a fully realized one.