It would be unfair to say Julie Sokolow is unknown in her own town, but she was only beginning to appear on the indie-scene radar here last year when her first album, Something About Violins, was released on the national-level indie Western Vinyl to a healthy dose of critical attention. A spate of local shows followed the full-length's release, and a Midwest tour over the summer accompanied a 7-inch vinyl split with Ohio artist Blake Miller.
Now she's settling back down a bit, which is perhaps for the best: The 20-year-old New Jersey transplant has things to juggle besides her nascent music career -- for example, a full class schedule at Pitt. "I'm trying to play fewer shows for now, because, you know ... school," she explains, equally apologetic and confident in her priorities.
In school, Sokolow majors in writing and psychology, which comes across in her music: Her lyrics, clearly the engine behind most of the songs, are self-examinations, tales of insecurities that most of us can relate to. While there's often an "other" in the picture, it's the self that's the true object of Sokolow's scrutiny.
It's Sokolow's recording techniques that stoke much of the interest in her, though. -- her work to this point has all been self-recorded at home using her iBook. There are, as one might imagine, minimalist aspects to the project, but what stands out is the depth that her production gives to the songs. The musical parts aren't particularly virtuosic, but the overlaying of multiple vocal and guitar tracks in addition to occasional keyboard and electronic sounds creates a complex set of harmonies that goes beyond most of what would traditionally be considered lo-fi without falling off into the world of Postal Service-type acts.
Expect a more stripped-down sound live -- as a general rule, it's Sokolow and her guitar -- but even without the production tricks, the songs don't necessarily suffer. Her impressive vocal range and slight affectations bring to mind a less country-ish Jolie Holland, though perhaps it's coincidental: Sokolow herself is more likely to be found listening to Andrew Bird or The Microphones.
Sokolow says she's already recorded her next album and is shopping it to labels; it promises more of the same charming production with only slight aesthetic changes. "I got a new microphone, so I'm not using the built-in pinhole anymore," she says. "Otherwise, it's still me recording at 4 a.m. in my bedroom."
Julie Sokolow with Cedar Wall, Branches! and Raymond Morin. 8 p.m. Sun., Sept. 30. ModernFormations, 4919 Penn Ave., Garfield. 412-362-0274 or www.modernformations.com