For about a month or two now one of my favorite artists, Juliana Hatfield, has made almost thirty previously unreleased tracks available online at her website. I kinda discovered them by accident. I don’t usually make it a habit to venture by the websites of my favorite artists. Band sites tend to feel like an obligation for the artist, rather than a passion, so they often lie dormant like South American volcanoes, only belching up new content when there’s sudden activity beneath the surface. I don’t hang around them much unless it occurs to me in a “Hey, what’s X up to these days?” sort of way.
So it was a nice surprise to see the mp3’s on Juliana’s site. They’re available for download on a “pay what you can” scheme, twenty eight tracks collected over the years all lined up nice and pretty, preceded by a fat yellow PayPal button. I grabbed them all yesterday. They’ve been on repeat since.
My interest in Ms. Hatfield grew by degrees. Back when they first emerged, I thought The Blake Babies were sweet and hooky. Her first solo effort, Hey Babe, was a blast and then Become What You Are (the album most casual listeners remember) was another step forward. Although I though the hit single “My Sister” was effective, I found it melodically and lyrically awkward. I was more impressed by Hatfield’s guitar chops. It wasn’t until Only Everything that I really sat up and took notice. It was a dreamy pastiche, and it appealed to my passion for arrangement and melody. Her lyrics took a quantum step forward. I loved it. Still do. In my early writing days I would grab a spiral notebook, park myself at the Earthling Bookstore Cafe in Santa Barbara and listen to the album on repeat.
She went to the mat during that time in a dispute with her label, and it feels like she was tempered by the struggle. While the albums that have managed to appear since then all have their share of sweetness, there’s a steel-edged cynicism there as well. Label disputes notwithstanding, she’s put out a lot of material. Aside from her solo stuff, she’s also managed to put out an album with her fellow Blake Babies and two albums under the side project, Some Girls. During these years of productivity many quality tunes have fallen through the cracks and remained (mostly) unavailable till now. It’s this material is that has been gathered on her site.
The songs are as varied as they are interesting, but they all demonstrate her uncanny knack for melodic hooks and her unparalleled pop sense. Only got a few bucks? Try a few of the standout tracks: “The Only One,” “This Is What I Think Of You,” (a simple breeze of guitar and wordless vocal) “Stupid Thing,” “Just Like That,” “Invisible,” and ” I Can’t Kill Myself,” which I find fascinating because it’s a glimpse into the Only Everything era album, God’s Foot, which is locked in the Atlantic vaults, a petty casualty to the acrimonious label split.
And if you go there, read this. Pay what you can. This is how it should be. An artist creates. Sets the work out for us and we pay. Slice out the fat in the middle.
Juliana Hatfield: official site, allmusic
(from the album Beautiful Creature)