Throughout 2019, I spilled quite a bit of virtual ink covering Baltimore-born multi-instrumentalist, singer/songwriter, producer and college student Julien Chang (pronounced Chong). Initially only thought of as “just a trombone player,” the Baltimore-born artist surprised his peers when he quietly began releasing original music saw him playing multiple instruments while meshing psych rock, pop-inspired melodicism and jazz fusion-like experimentation and improvisation with a sophistication and self-assuredness that belied his youth. Thematically, Chang’s work sees him tunneling towards deeper truths, while touching upon everyday existentialism, love, life, art — and his own life as a human and artist.
Those early releases caught the attention of Transgressive Records, who signed Chang and released his acclaimed full-length debut, 2019’s Jules, which featured:
- “Of The Past,” a sleek, early 80s-like synth funk-based track centered around dexterous musicianship and pop melodicisim
- “Butterflies from Monaco,” a slow-burning Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles-like track
- “Memory Loss” an 80s synth funk inspired song that continued a remarkable run of self-assured material centered around dazzling musicianship and big hooks.
Chang’s highly-anticipated — and long-awaited — sophomore album The Sale is slated for a November 4, 2022 release through Transgressive Records. Partially recorded in Baltimore and partially in his Princeton dorm room, The Sale is a DIY effort with Chang playing all instruments — with the odd exception of a few notable cameos from some Baltimore locals, classmates and old friends. Thematically, The Sale‘s material sees the rising Baltimore artist exploring the discrepancy between two worlds, a struggle to get comfortable in either one of them, and an artistic fascination with that very struggle.
Earlier this year, I wrote about “Marmalade,” a single that found the Baltimore-born artist leaning heavily into lo-fi indie pop with the song featuring glistening guitar lines, punchy drums, Chang’s layered, ethereal falsetto and some remarkably infectious hooks. But the song is underpinned by Chang’s long-held penchant for expansive, psych pop-influenced song structures.
Interestingly, “Marmalade” isn’t as much of a love song, as much as it is about the way one’s memory makes sense of love — and the experience of being in and out of love. “I think the point is that memory runs up against certain limits in sense-making and then has to start relying on fictions,” Chang says. “I wrote ‘Marmalade’ at a time in which this feeling of passionate regret had just finished transforming into something domesticated, incorporated, and basically mundane — a part of everyday life, something that pops up in the mind from time to time and causes me to scrunch my nose.”
Chang continues, “The verses are the positive struggle of trying to make sense of a past romantic experience; the choruses are the ensuing confrontation with non-sense (“I nearly lost my name!”); and the euphoric outro is the resulting victory of a false memory (“I remember falling in love! I remember falling in love! I remember falling in love!”).
The Sale‘s third and latest single “Snakebite” sees Chang effortlessly meshing elements of smooth jazz, jazz fusion, Tame Impala-like psych pop and pop in what may arguably be the lush, funkiest and yet most introspective song of Chang’s growing catalog.
“‘Snakebit’ emerged during a period of transformation. This was around the time I left Baltimore for University in the middle of New Jersey,” Chang explains in press notes. “The awkwardness of the transition and the discomfort of ‘growing pains’ provoked in me a kind of creative agitation which found its outlet most decisively in this song. But the song is not only about changing. It is also about encountering change: in a reflective turn, encountering myself who is changing and then interrogating him, testing the limits of the ‘new me’ before finding that I am really not so different.”
Created by multidisciplinary artist Vaughn Taormina, the accompanying video for “Snakebit” draws from an eclectic array of influences including Jacques Tati’s Playtime, 80s Japanese advertisements, the concept of dopplegängers and more. The video also begins with “Snakebite Side,” a cinematic and jazzier, kissing cousin to the original single.
“The song takes the form of a self-interrogation. I have changed, but how? and when? Why? This video simulates the fragmented, unfocused, and self-contradictory search for clues that one falls into trying to answer,” Chang says of the video. “Taken as a whole, the animations all seem to go together on a single string, but examined individually, it is clear that what binds them is not any logical order. In this sense, the video has the structure of a dream. While dreaming, a rapid sequence of freely-associated images and events seems to make perfect sense. It is only upon sober reflection the following morning that these images and events become absurd, random, and nonsensical.”