Album Reviews

Julia Shapiro – Perfect Version

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Perfect Version finds Julia Shapiro wrangling with the idea of the self at a tumultuous time in her life, cataloguing the period following her exit from Chastity Belt’s third album tour due to a flustered blend of relationship woes and emotional toil. Facing the mirror to see nothing, she begins to question what it means to be someone at all, to be truly authentic. ‘Parking Lot’ materialises this thought into the daily task of trying to find somewhere to park, unmasking routines as things done out of mere habit rather than because we want to, raising questions about the significance of our actions and if we must carefully select each one to bring us closer to what we desire. “Can’t seem to figure it out” she seems to yawn before drifting off, rising again on the distorted guitars of ‘A Couple Highs’ to lament the uncertainty with which she pursues happiness – “Having fun/What truly makes me happy?” she sighs, grateful for the moments of lightness but yearning for a way to develop and sustain them.

She poses a question of improvement, asking whether by improving we are becoming more like ourselves, or if we are following a tangent that takes us further away from the original self we begin as. “I should really delete my Instagram” she decides on the lively ‘I Lied’, a quieter riff granting her voice role as the focus. “I should be present”, “I should go to bed at a reasonable hour” she declares to the near-melodic drum beat, admitting shortly afterwards that it doesn’t sound that fun to be so put together. To remove everything we have gained since we started, she asks, is that to be us? Guitar notes amalgamate into a mournful cry on ‘Shape’ before she acknowledges she cannot fit into the mould, incongruent, contemplating whether to live as a fool with “lightness of being” and become those around her rather than herself – “your thoughts were my own”.

Across these tracks the lyrics tend to hold onto Shapiro’s tongue, releasing only completely when she relinquishes the entirety of the breath. This run-on-line format allows her to draw words out into conversations that feel entirely colloquial whilst avoiding any indication of impetuousness. Continuing this stylistic choice, she also treats the matter at hand with a contemporary wit and candour that diffuses some of its existentialist nature. Opener ‘Natural’ refers to the fearless confidence that some exude as a “trick” that can be learned, tugged upstream by leading kicks and snares that keep the track from slipping into a monotonous lurch. Similarly, on the title track she briefly skims over the frivolous attitude with which to treat problems, adopting a flippant attitude towards the relentless strife and thanking her friends for being there to “laugh at what I’ve done”. She conjures up these problems as meagre sheets of paper, crooning “I can finally tear them up” as she brandishes nihilism-based strength and steps closer towards contentment. Reinforcing these casual observations with mellow tones, we’re guided effortlessly by her vocals, buoyed by the replacement of drums with percussive trumpets (Darren Hanlon) that maintain playfulness in the ideas presented.

But after every footnote of unceremonious observation, we are struck by a lingering sense of fear. Shapiro states things matter of factly, but much of this is without full conviction. ‘Empty Cup’ attempts to mask this trepidation by using reverb to expand the soundscape, but this merely adds to the uncertainty – “So what comes next / A lasting sense of self” she questions and answers, drawing us beside her for silent reassurance that her choices will result in exaltation.

This album is a moment of charming lucidity, wrapping the listener in a blanket of introspective warmth that, for the most part, shifts daunting existentialism into a light of humour and weightlessness wherein solemn subjects become the wispy afterthoughts of posting on Instagram. Perfect Version gently acknowledges that the self is unchangeable, defined not by any accumulation of things that we’ve said or done, but existing in the present moment as a glimmer of consciousness that’s constantly fending off irrational fears, unattainable desires, and intrusive thoughts about “what happens when we die”. Sonically relaxed, Shapiro ensures that we slip into a melancholic haze that truly reflects the peculiar lack of urgency we give to a matter that affects us all, and accepting this, concludes the album by bringing us back to the start.  Mitchell Goudie