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Julia Shapiro - "Perfect Version" | Album Review


by Erin Bensinger (@_babybluet)

Perfect Version finds songwriter Julia Shapiro letting go of the notion that there could ever be a perfect version of anything — a song, a tour, a life. By taking control of the entire album-writing process, including playing nearly all the instruments and learning how to mix, Shapiro created a piece of art that is at once deeply personal and uniquely her own. It’s true, beautiful, and resonant; much more so than anything “perfect” could ever be.

Shapiro is best known for her work in Chastity Belt and Childbirth, two sonically different Seattle-based bands that share a lo-fi punk ethos and biting lyrics that satirize and celebrate life as a young woman in spite of the patriarchy. On her first solo endeavor, which came out on Hardly Art in June, she takes that same energy but turns it inwards, shining that light on seemingly every corner of herself until nothing remains unexplored. 

The opening track, “Natural,” leads with a bright, reverb-laden guitar melody that repeats throughout the entire track, creating a warm, contemplative backdrop for Shapiro to process two passing thoughts that swirl around one core theme: what if I’ve picked the wrong thing to do with my life? The track, which was also the album’s lead single, is enticing and striking in its simplicity, allowing layered guitars and the clarity of thought to share the center stage.

“Shape” takes a slightly different direction, using the same elements to build a song but taking a turn for the dark and atmospheric. It has a refreshingly raw, unfussed quality to it, calling to mind the sounds and experimentations you might make if left alone for a couple hours on a lazy Sunday with a chorus pedal, a looper, and your own insecurities. 

For what it’s worth
I’m not here, everything’s dark
Now I’ll slip into a dream
Where I’m nothing and my mind’s free

The album’s closer, “Empty Cup,” finds Shapiro’s voice supported by a celestial choir of her own making, plunging deeper into the swimming, alone-but-not-quite-lonely atmosphere she’s built up over the course of the 10-track album. The track features gorgeous experimental flourishes; notes that hit somewhere between the sound of a violin and amplifier feedback ring out in the background, adding a unique depth and complexity to the lush layers that compose the soundscape. 

That is the album’s aim, after all: to explore, unbounded, the depth and complexity of Shapiro’s innermost contemplations outside of the context of her existing musical projects. We should all be so lucky to bear witness to it.