Lo-fi Spotlight: Julie Sokolow's "Violins"

Categories: Music


Julie Sokolow sits on an aluminum chair, seemingly uncomfortable on stage with her guitar, sipping Pabst between songs at a small venue called Modern Formations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It doesn't quite seem like a rock show, but rather like a sedate college house party, with 15 or 20 students huddled around her on the floor and on couches. Between songs, she admits it: "This feels strange; I feel like I should be sitting with this guitar on the corner of a bed, maybe playing it for no one." She goes into a song called "Violins," about an Andrew Bird concert she attended as a freshman at the University of Pittsburgh.

"I stumbled through auditorium, ticket in my hand.
Found a few friends from nearby concession stand.
A Friday excuse for entertainment.
Or more than I had planned."

The lyrics alone seem simple and painless, but her voice illustrates something deeper -- a maturity and sense of haunting introspection that's unique for anyone, and especially someone her age (she's now 20). She continues:

"City’s winter locked me in.
Solid cold ripped through my skin.
Still I heard words flying through the air,
something about violins.
Something about violins,
traveling softly through the air,"

Chris Richards, from the Washington Post's Singles File, said "She pronounces 'violins' like 'violence,' giving this lonesome, Cat Power-ish ballad a subtle sense of menace." And that seems about right, though you can make the Cat Power comparison on your own. Does she sound like Cat Power?

Perhaps a very lo-fi version of Cat Power. Regardless, it's tough not to think of her recent musical history while listening to "Violins." At 18, during a time when she was admittedly miserable, she wrote and recorded an entire album in her dorm room with an acoustic guitar and an iMac. Her songs were then noticed on MySpace by someone at Western Vinyl in Austin, Texas. They soon released her songs without rerecording them. The album you can buy here is exactly as she recorded it two years ago.

There's a sense that Western Vinyl might've done Sokolow harm by not going into the studio. You'll notice that her guitar often slips out of tune, and that the tone of her voice is jarring on the occasions when she tries to layer harmonies but barely misses her notes. Her work, though, is interesting to note as testament to what someone with talent and ingenuity can accomplish in a dorm room. Go here for more.

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