Reese W., the singer-songwriter behind the new song “Julianna (What Have I Done)”, does not have a website of his own. If you were to search “Reese W” or “Reese W singer” on Google, you’d find pages of results on Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon. His only online presence is his Spotify page and his Instagram, where his handle is “dj.breastmilk” (yes, really). Given the available information, I wasn’t sure what to expect, and I was even less sure that I would like the result.
And yet, for a guy who goes by “dj.breastmilk”, Reese W. has written a surprisingly mature, potent song. (Do I call him Reese? Mr. W.? Mr. Breastmilk? Reese will do.) “Julianna” is bluesy and cinematic, using little more than a guitar, drums, a humming electric organ, and Reese’s voice to conjure a crackling, captivating atmosphere. Listening to it, you imagine a rainy alleyway outside of a club, or a flickering overhead light in a dingy bar. This downbeat, noirish mood, coupled with the steady trip hop beat, brings to mind Dummy-era Portishead; for a more contemporary reference point, there’s a hint of King Krule in Reese’s moody-bluesy guitar work. But these are just passing reminders, and to reduce “Julianna” to its possible influences is to do it a disservice. You don’t get an atmosphere like this from rote copying, and it’s clear that Reese has genuine talent.
According to Reese, “Julianna” was written in twenty minutes before being stored away for five years. “This song is about an encounter that hardly happened,” Reese says in the YouTube video description, “[and] this is what happened in my mind.” “Julianna” doesn’t spell out exactly what happened–in fact, it’s pleasingly ambiguous–but it’s a handy way of looking at the song. Its growing intensity suggests a touch of obsession, a feeling that the narrator cares about this relationship with Julianna more than a reasonable person should; certainly more than Julianna does, in any case. There’s the way the parenthetical within the title suggests a horrible reckoning with the self (you don’t ask yourself“ what have I done?” after you get your girlfriend the wrong flavor of ice cream, after all), and the way Reese occasionally repeats a phrase right after he says it, like he’s ruminating over an intrusive thought: “we’ll crash and burn, we’ll crash and burn”. There’s a feeling of danger, running just beneath the cool, loping surface.
But it doesn’t really matter what happened. It could have been a romance, a one-night-stand, or even less. Our narrator could be a heartbroken man done wrong, or he could be an obsessive nut. Julianna could be a duplicitous temptress, or she could be on her fourth phone number and seventh set of locks by now. There’s a lot that’s left ambiguous in “Julianna”, and while that can sometimes be an excuse to cover up lazy songwriting, I’m inclined to think that’s not the case here. Reese does an excellent job at sustaining the song’s simmering atmosphere, and one gets the feeling that he put in exactly as much as he felt he needed to. And besides, who needs specifics when you can have a sweet guitar solo?
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