erasing clouds

Juliana Hatfield, In Exile Deo

review by j.d. lafrance

Ever since being dropped by a major record label, Juliana Hatfield has remained fiercely independent, refusing to do music videos or merchandise herself. While her contemporaries have either sold out and gone mainstream (Liz Phair) or simply self-destructed (Courtney Love), Juliana remains one of the most consistent female singer/songwriters out there.

After a double hit of the noisy, raw sound of Total System Failure and its quieter, more introspective counterpart Beautiful Creature, Juliana left the door wide open as to which direction she would take. Her latest effort, In Exile Deo, is an excellent fusion of both albums and continues her preoccupation with working out her inner demons through her songwriting.

The album starts off with "Get in Line," a rocker that seems to affirm that the time off between albums has not softened her edge. Juliana is still capable of insanely catchy hooks and vivid imagery as she sings at one point, "throwing rocks at clouds to tear their silver linings/knocking rainbows down to keep myself from climbing." Such overt pessimism has never sounded more appealing.

She slows things down a bit with "Jamie's in Town" and shows off her knack for great melodies and her beautiful (and underrated) voice. This leads right into, arguably, the strongest track on the album, "Tourist," a perfectly crafted song about a fleeting relationship. Juliana's voice really sounds great on this one and the chorus will have you reaching for the repeat button.

Perhaps the most heartbreaking track on the album is her cover of Dot Allison's "Tomorrow Never Comes," which features great observations about the little details people remember in relationships. Juliana's achingly emotional voice really comes through on this track, especially during the chorus as she sings, "with a little courage, in time/you might forgive me/with a little loving, in time/you might forgive me." Your heart really goes out to her on this one.

The album falters (albeit superficially) on "Dirty Dog" with the occasional sound of a dog barking which comes off as too obvious. The lyrics already get the point across. Perhaps the weakest track is the last one, "My Enemy" which devolves into pointless wailing and noisy guitar chaos. If the album had ended with "Don't Let Me Down" it would have been near perfect.

In a musical landscape dominated by the breathy, empty vocals of the likes of Britney Spears and Hilary Duff, Juliana Hatfield is a welcome relief. Young 'uns like Avril Lavigne owe their entire careers to Juliana who blazed the trail before them. And yet, either by choice or the state of the industry, she remains a marginalized figure - one of the best kept secrets in alternative music. In Exile Deo is an excellent album, one of Juliana's best, and showcases not just her strong songwriting but also her top notch guitar-playing skills.

Issue 27, October 2004

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