First Impressions: Blood by Juliana Hatfield

Although due for release on May 14th, fans who splurged on the Blood VIP bundle via the American Laundromat website received their Juliana Hatfield transfusion early – mine arrived on Wednesday the 5th, while others reported receiving theirs even earlier. (The bundle, for those curious, includes a CD, two LPs – one autographed, one not – plus bunches of other stuff. About the only thing missing: a cassette.)

The packaging is über cool. The cover art was created by Juliana; it finds a woman, hands freshly chopped off (the spraying blood is a clue), diving into an abyss. The back cover and innards, which were designed by Jed Davis, conjure a poster for a horror/splatter film of some kind. It ably reflects the music in that sense, as some gruesome imagery is featured in spots. Like many of her recent albums, Juliana plays most of the instruments, including drums, while Davis provides support on seven tracks (typically drum programming, but sometimes bass, synth bass and keyboards).

“The Shame of Love” opens the album and is, in a few words, akin to Pop Rocks candy set to song. Just when the poppy flavor inundates the senses, pow!, it explodes into something more raucous. There’s some stutter-steps along the way, too, plus a call back to “Let’s Blow It All” (“I crash another new car”) that’s quite cool. As a whole, the lyrics find her frozen by her “clumsy heart,” lamenting the “total abjection” (blurring the boundaries between the self and the other) and “abuses of affection” that sometimes comes with love. (Of course, she explained to me long ago – via this 20 Questions – that when she sings “I” she usually means “you” and when she uses “you” she generally means herself. So, who knows.)

“Gorgon” takes its title and some of its imagery from the myth of Medusa, who was one of the three gorgons in Greek mythology. Thematically, it echoes “I Got No Idols” to an extent: “I never said I was an angel/I never said I ever cared/I never promised anyone anything/no enchanted fairytales/you must have interpreted it wrong/because I don’t sing love songs.”

“Nightmary” is an upbeat ode to living a waking nightmare: “Hour after hour bombarded by lies/it’s a desecration of the mind/their deep wells of greed have no bottoms/they hoard resources and no one stops them.” It’s part and parcel of Life in the Modern Age, really, when propaganda serves as truth for many. “Had a Dream,” which follows, could well have been written by Christopher Moltisanti (from The Sopranos), as it’s essentially Saw set to song: “I had a dream last night/and in my dream I had a knife/I stuck the knife into your neck/then I pulled it out and I stabbed you again.” On the other hand, it could have been written by novelist Bret Easton Ellis, whose American Psycho satirized consumerism in grotesque fashion. Either/or, unlike the violent imagery found on Pussycat, here it just seems…self-indulgent.

“Splinter,” which follows, is a more gentle song, though one no less tough. It opens with her dreaming of escape, of winning the lottery and moving away, and ends with: “And still I wonder/how anyone could believe in anybody/how could you love me/I stopped asking/when you stopped answering.” The next song, the spiky “Suck It Up,” delves into the biggest issue facing artists of all stripes: survival.

“Chunks” is another (seemingly) Saw-inspired ode. I’m sure there’s a metaphoric meaning in both songs that I’m missing, but – given that I’m one to always look away from a screen during bloody scenes – I don’t see (or hear) it. I’m also not crazy with the distorted bass that punctures the song; the first time I heard it, via the free downloads that came with the set, I assumed the file was corrupted. It wasn’t until I played the LP and then CD, and then FLAC rips from said CD, that I understood that was the intent. 

The lead single, “Mouthful of Blood,” is next. It’s a perky, poppy song that simultaneously addresses the “shut up and sing” crowd as well as cancel culture writ large: “If I say what I want to say/it might just get me killed/there’s no freedom of expression/and I don’t think I will let you in on my thoughts.” It’s an interesting and well-done song and, for my money, the best on the album. 

“Dead Weight,” like “Gorgon,” could be directed at either a suitor or fans, but what’s most striking to me is the enmity she expresses for both herself and the other, whoever it may be: “In the future it comes undone/all your desires are delusions/I am nothing to anyone/never will be and never was.” The album ends with “Torture,” a laidback “Slow Motion”-type tune inspired by waiting on the phone for tech support.

Anyway, by my count, if one includes her work with the Blake Babies, Some Girls, Minor Alps and I Don’t Cares, Juliana Hatfield has now released 28 studio albums, one live set and five EPs since 1987; and Blood is her 12th album since 2010. It’s a remarkable statistic that, aside from putting most of her peers to shame, is made all the more remarkable by this: She’s never released a truly wretched set. Most are solid-to-stellar outings, with eight or nine five-star affairs. I say all of that so I can end with this: After my first dozen-or-so listens, I place Blood in the solid-to-stellar category. If you’re a fan, it’s well worth picking up. If you’re not, give it a listen on one of the streaming services.

The track list:

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