Always & Always by The Julies (Review)

The Julies return after nearly 30 years with an album of mature, reflective indie pop.
Always & Always - The Julies

Once upon a time, there was a band from Philadelphia called The Julies that released a single EP in 1996 and disbanded soon after. Although their Lovelife EP flew largely under the radar, it nevertheless became the stuff of legend, discussed on message boards and email lists in hushed tones. Anyone who heard The Julies’ Brit-obsessed sound — replete with shoegaze-y guitars and pouty faux accent — instantly fell in love with them, it seemed. (I can still remember my friend Nolan excitedly telling me that he’d found a copy in a used CD bin.)

So a promising young band releases one batch of songs, disappears, and achieves cult status. Under normal circumstances, that’d be the end of the story. But these days have seen plenty of bands re-emerging from the woodwork after realizing that people still love their music after all these years. So it is with The Julies, who remastered and reissued Lovelife in 2020, followed by some lost mixes from the Lovelife sessions earlier this year. And now we have Always & Always, The Julies’ first honest-to-goodness full-length, nearly three(!) full decades after their debut.

Given time’s passage, it should be no surprise that the band’s interests and priorities have changed. Whereas Lovelife’s songs were deliciously overwrought ruminations on love and romance as only the young can write, Always & Always is filled with the existential reflections of middle-aged adults who now find themselves raising families in a messy and uncertain world.

There are moments that evoke Lovelife’s youthfulness (e.g., “My Heaven Is a Dance Floor”), but on “Every Day Is Like Doomsday,” Chris Newkirk watches the world go mad on his iPhone: “Here we are again, get into bed/Faces illuminated by bad news… Inject me with the news/Another scorched earth still birth year.” Later, “The Weight of Your Hand” expresses an anxiety that’s universal to every parent: “You can tell by the look in my eyes/That I’ve been up all night/Next to my beautiful wife/Counting the ways we could fuck up your life.” And “Angels of the Underground” could be a lament for the ways in which the beloved music of one’s youth loses its potency over time.

“Forever Machines” is the album’s most pointed song, as Newkirk uses The Julies’ atmospheric post-punk to tackle the conflation of gun violence and religion. “I know you won’t read it/The Sermon on the Mount/I know you don’t need it/When your Gospel is stand your ground,” he sings; “What is God telling you/That God’s not telling me/You think the Holy Ghost/Wants you to make a ghost of me.” Such lyrics might seem over-the-top… until you remember that we have politicians who actually campaign on platforms like “Jesus Guns Babies.” But Newkirk is also quick to point back at himself: “Well the decades they tell me/I was a self absorbed fool,” he sings on “The Sulky Youth,” dismantling his own youthful arrogance and solipsism.

Given the album’s lyrical heaviness, it’s fitting that the The Julies’ sound is murkier and noisier now. First single “Symmetry” begins Always & Always with noisy, roiling guitars that are a far cry from Lovelife’s pep. Meanwhile, shadowy, Cure-ish filigrees dance around “Every Day Is Like Doomsday” like ghosts from the Seventeen Seconds sessions and ominous synths imbue “Forever Machines” with a suitably troubled undercurrent.

Like Fine China and Luxury, time has matured and deepened The Julies’ sound; the pout is largely gone from Newkirk’s voice, with world weariness and rueful regret taking its place. Which is as it should be. Time passes, the days come and go, and we all inch closer to death. When Newkirk sings “The truth is hope is hard” before revealing his own struggles and desires, it hits a lot harder — for this 47-year-old, anyway — then it would had the band simply (and foolishly, perhaps) tried to recapture what worked so well in their youth.

The Julies’ Lovelife remains an indie classic, but nostalgia only gets you so far. Thus, it’s refreshing that, with Always & Always, The Julies have allowed their dreamy indie-pop to mature with grace.

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