Our experience of music owes much to the environment in which we hear it. Sometimes, that environment is internal, such as the post-breakup void that makes a song sound raw or the new love that renders it airy and upbeat. Often, it’s external, arising from the landscape outside of a car window or the rain hitting your bedroom windows.
Julie Cool’s debut EP exhibits the opposite effect: the music transforms the landscape around it. In the dead of winter, Demo infuses its surroundings with a shimmery warmth. Just four songs long, it’s a pop of summer in January—a sunny contrast to the cold that had settled in Baltimore, where the band (Elliott Dean, Chris Arreza, Ben Bjork, and Matt Morin) lives, when they released the album on one of the last days of 2017.
The main sources of the Demo’s warmth are lo-fi production, bright guitar, and relaxed vocals. Combined, they form easygoing psych-pop tunes whose jangliness and nonchalance resembles—uncannily in the case of “Triceratops”—that of Mac DeMarco. For the most part, though, Julie Cool is dreamier than DeMarco. In the opener, “Heaven Knows (feat. ruru),” the pretty male and female harmonies sit further back in the mix than the instrumental voices, resulting in haziness. Though the spacious and clear guitar parts offer a bright foundation, the vocals inject undertones of wistfulness, emphasized by lyrics such as, “When you leave me all alone / All the thoughts collide in my head.” As the song increasingly builds to a dreamy cacophony, the listener can imagine those thoughts colliding.
Julie Cool’s dreaminess emerges in different forms elsewhere in the album. In “Sheila,” a drum loop fit for Michael Jackson sets the stage for a woozy song whose lyrics project a John Hughes film in the movie screen of the mind (“Do you see her / Moving down the hall / She won’t see you / She don’t care at all”). The track sounds like a warped ‘80s pop song steeped in jangly guitars.
Good old-fashioned pop also dwells at the core of “Triceratops” and “I Don’t Mind,” both of which use foot-tapping melodies, time-tested chord progressions, and head-bobbing rhythms, even as they—and you along with them—wobble and float through hazy and sometimes surreal compositions. While winter is stark and severe, Julie Cool’s debut is lush, loose, and vibrant, full of the kind of music that not only immerses the listener, but everything around her, too.