It often feels like that light at the end of the proverbial tunnel is permanently out of reach. Darkness is always creeping two, three steps ahead. On Masking, though, Joel St. Julien finds a way through. Learning about the idea of “masking” and gaining a deeper understanding of his neurodivergence while realizing how much he’d been hiding his personal struggles became a jumping-off point for St. Julien. Masking is the sound of a new world emerging, hidden in the shadows of the old.
Rhythms fluctuate like a gently-pounding rain playing on “Masking II,” transforming into pulsating symphonies above us. Combined with the looping bass melody and elastic synth tones, cracks in our long-held facade form and grow exponentially. St. Julien dives headfirst, observing him move toward the core with pensive guitar passages clearing the way. Once he lands, the shimmering tones of “Collected Breath” take over. A pondering spirit develops in the wavering drones. Stillness looms. We gather ourselves to continue ahead.
I love the way St. Julien weaves different beats into these soundscapes. They’re jarring on some level, but that heightens the narrative and makes sense in the larger context of the album. “Float” starts below the surface with fuzz-laden arpeggios and muffled arrangements before an iridescent cloud gives way to pointed rhythms and dub-soaked flourishes. That rippling lead melody worms its way into every artery and vein to permeate our entire selves. A joyous exuberance washes over “Le Grande Finale” with buzzing bass grooves and an earnest cadence. We are bathed in the light.
Masking is another remarkable chapter in Joel St. Julien’s ever-growing, impressive discography. Even considering the inspiration behind the album, this is a euphoric, brave statement that shows an artist finding their true voice. In finding his own self, St. Julien shows us our honest reflections in the glassine tones and ebullient soundscapes. On Masking, clarity takes on new shapes and opens a new world of expression.