Swing Your Lanterns

Ivan Julian

Pravda Records, 2023


REVIEW BY: John Mulhouse


Ivan Julian remains probably best known for his work on the first, iconic Richard Hell & The Voidoids album, Blank Generation. With co-guitarist Robert Quine, future Ramone Marc Bell on drums, and the bass, vocals, poeticism, and safety-pinned clothing of Richard Hell, the band was instrumental in helping to create a blueprint for punk that persists to this day. This was CBGB at Year Zero, and the jaded pouts crossed with whip-smart intellect and a bit (or a lot) of self-harm remain an irresistible combination for many musicians some 56-plus (?!) years later.

None of the posturing would matter if the music wasn’t great, and it certainly was (and is). A large part of the Voidoids magic was the twin guitars of Quine and Julian, which were spiky, angular, and more jarring/less liquid than Television, but having no less of a conversation. So it’s pretty great to hear that signature sound return right out of the box on “Cut Me Loose,” the first song on Ivan Julian’s new solo album Swing Your Lanterns. Gritty, jagged, soulful, and with a voice that, dare I say, has some similarities to Richard Hell, it’s immediately clear that Julian is still the real downtown NYC deal.

“Can’t Help Myself” and “Wild” continue in a similar vintage Bowery vein. Julian has surrounded himself with a number of very sympathetic musicians, and while the configurations vary considerably from song to song, it all sounds of a piece. Julian is playing and singing his heart out, exhibiting the kind of hard-won honesty and conviction that comes from having lived life on one’s own terms, as well as surviving a 2016 cancer diagnosis and 2019 recurrence.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“Tell Me Lies,” an acoustic lament about love growing cold, downshifts, adding some melancholy to the proceedings. “Love Is Good” keeps things slow with a bit of a soul inflection. While at first I thought the sentiment a bit… I don’t know, obvious, there are some barbs in these lyrics and I have to admit that the song has grown on me.

“I Am Not A Drone (Alone)” changes things up a bit with a more rhythmic, acoustic base that shifts into a charging electric chorus, the lyrics referring to “drone” in both its cultural and military senses. The title track incorporates a touch of funk and is perhaps the philosophical centerpiece of the album. “Swing your lanterns low… don’t you know which way to go?” ask the lyrics, a nod to uncertain times.

The acoustic “Cazalla” is another wistful ballad, sounding not unlike something that might’ve appeared on the second Voidoids album, 1982’s Destiny Street, which, ironically, Julian didn’t play on. Here, as throughout the album, it’s clear Julian’s guitar chops are fully intact, and his playing is sharp and tasteful. “Voodoo Christmas” offers an unsettling, slinky reflection on what sounds to have been a holiday marked by the inevitable end a relationship. In fact, much of the album seems to chart the painful dissolution of a love affair as summarized in the final track entitled… um, “Love Affair.” It’s yet another bit of prime NYC grit, sounding a little like something the Only Ones’ Peter Perrett might’ve written, as well. It’s a great tune, and perhaps my favorite of the record.

The songs on Swing Your Lanterns are concise and the record itself clocks in at just over 37 minutes. In these days of hour-plus albums, this brevity only increases the impact of each song, leaving you wanting a bit more, which is a trick that more musicians might want to remember.

Julian has been a member of The Fauntleroys with Alejandro Escovedo, guitarist Nicholas Tremulis (also appearing on Swing Your Lanterns), and drummer Linda Pitmon, and appeared on The Clash’s Sandinista (he added guitar on “The Call Up”). He’s also played in Shriekback and spent much of the ’90s in Matthew Sweet’s band. In 2009, he released his first solo album, backed by Argentinian garage-rockers Capsula. That makes Swing Your Lanterns just the second solo outing over a very long career, and the first in 14 years.

With Bob Quine having passed in 2004, and following the recent death of Tom Verlaine—not to mention Julian’s own battles with mortality—there’s no time to waste in appreciating those who laid the foundations of so much music so many love. With Swing Your Lanterns Ivan Julian makes that easy.

Rating: A-

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