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.
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 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.
So far, I’ve written about two of the album’s singles:
“Marmalade,” a decidedly lo-fi indie pop song featuring glistening guitar lines, punchy drums, Chang’s layered, ethereal falsetto and some remarkably infectious hooks, 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!”).
“Snakebit,” an effortless synthesis of smooth jazz, jazz fusion, Tame Impala-like psych pop and straightforward pop in what may arguably be the most lush, funkiest and 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.”
“Competition’s Friend,” The Sale‘s latest single sees Chang crafting a cinematic track that sonically seems like one-part Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, one-part Dark Side of the Moon and Wish You Were Here-era Pink Floyd and built around an expansive song structure and arrangement paired with some remarkably introspective and incisive lyricism.
“’Competition’s Friend’ can be seen as the soundtrack to a last ditch effort to overcome the deadlock of self-alienation: ecstasy against ambivalence,” Chang explains. “The setting is a world of resumes, interviews, internships, ‘networks’ –in other words, a world of papers in which one is always examining oneself, not really as a ‘self,’ but rather as a symbolic outward-facing figure, of whose virtue and competency someone else must always still be convinced. The song tries to work through these frustrations before coming finally to a fantastic escape: in the last two minutes we reach the ecstatic heights from which such small and detailed self-scrutiny can be overcome, if not forgotten.”