At the start of Julia Reidy’s new album, World in World, the Australia-born, Berlin-based multi-instrumentalist and producer makes brief sweeps across their electric guitar strings, each note pinging against the next at uncanny angles, like alien electrons bouncing through the thermosphere. Just as the sound of an orchestra tuning reassures an audience of quality control, Reidy’s strums and plucks offer warranties of intrigue, a promise you’ve rarely heard a guitar sound quite like this. Pedals click on and off, their pops framing an incidental rhythm as their electronic purrs unspool and recede. Reidy repeats this ostensible warmup—prismatic notes, pedal pops, droning tones—until you barely notice you’ve slipped into the opening title track. Warped chords and distant vocals shape a meditative hymn, as if bent by funhouse mirrors; you may soon hum along, even if the sound is unfamiliar.
Reidy’s recent work, especially 2020’s spellbinding Vanish, used the guitar as a springboard for immersive and audacious art-pop universes, like Julia Holter facing dioramic canvases. But for these nine subtle and intimate pieces, they stick largely to pensive guitar ruminations, with electronics emphasizing certain phrases and Reidy’s spectral voice seeming to haunt others. World in World is a solo guitar album in the way that, say, William Tyler’s Behold the Spirit is a solo guitar album, Mary Lattimore’s Hundreds of Days is a solo harp album, or Nils Frahm’s Spaces is a solo keyboard album. The guitar is Reid’s entryway into wider explorations of sound on a path toward emotionally expressive idiosyncrasy.
For World in World, Reidy played a custom guitar built by innovative instrument designer and engineer Sukandar Kartadinata, whose prior projects have included a “data violin” and ways of better incorporating digital software in analogue instruments. Reidy’s request, though, was incredibly hands-on: an electric guitar with moveable frets and “fretlets,” to allow for a wide range of very exact tunings. Reidy wanted to play in just intonation, meaning that the ratio between the notes are whole numbers, rather than the irrational divisions of equal temperament, the reigning system in Western composition. For Reidy’s purposes, the justly tuned guitar reorients familiar picking-or-strumming patterns until you feel like you’re hearing them for the first time. Reidy capitalizes on this sense of newness, making blues and ballads sound novel.
Talk of just intonation can sometimes be proudly academic, the details of specific systems acting like theoretical moats. But Reidy operates more on intuition than ideologic devotion in tuning. “I try to treat it as a tool,” Reidy said in an email, “but I’m not precious about logic or precision.… I like establishing systems and then fucking with them.” You may hear the lugubrious syncopation of John Fahey in “World in World” or perhaps the Delta blues during the spectacular and spry “Loom.” These unusual and personal tunings, though, delightfully dodge easy interpretation. Reidy’s every move shimmers in peculiar ways, so even ordinary guitar gestures become mutated and strange.