I think the thing I found most impressive about “Stay Awake”, the third and most recent album dropped by YouTube musician Julia Nunes, is how much Julia has grown and matured as an artist since her mega hit “Into the Sunshine” was featured on YouTube back in 2007.
This new album definitely still possesses Julia’s signature sound and style: thoughtful, emotive, poetic lyrics, coupled with her hugely powerful, raw, passionate, and rich alto. But what makes “Settle Down” so wonderful, though, is that rather than being a complete departure from “Left Right Wrong” and “I Wrote These”, it builds on what was already beautiful about these previous albums. She takes her music to the next level; pulls out all the stops, so to speak.
“Stay Awake”, the album’s perky opening track and first single, provides an interesting contrast to the next eight tracks on the album. These pieces are not Julia’s traditional lilting ballads—no, they are powerful anthems filled with depth and insight and chords that reach right deep down inside of you and make you feel something. “Lookout for Yourself”, “Nothing’s That Great”, “To The Damsel’s Run” and “Mad” particularly showcase Julia’s maturity that extends far beyond her years.
“I Will Go Anywhere With You” is a nod to classic JuNu, albeit a more polished tune than her previous uke delights. It was this track that took me back to 2008, watching an adorably quirky girl cover “Accidentally in Love” on a ukulele, of all things. It’s funny to look back and think that it is that very same girl with a ukulele and a webcam who has been on Conan O’Brien and Good Morning America and is now known all around the world for her very unique and beautiful brand of music.
I particularly love that this track references the “Rochester skyline.” Central New York has a very special place in my heart, and whenever it’s mentioned in music or literature, I can’t help but smile; after all, it is my home. Knowing exactly what Julia was referencing, I can’t deny my eyes got a little watery.
“This Is What I Used To Know” is a beautiful tribute to childhood lost, lines like “I used to like her son but he turned out to be a dick”, are a perfect display of how wonderfully funny, honest, and completely down-to-earth Julia is.
I had heard “I Wasn’t Worried” on Julia’s channel a while ago, and immediately clicked the ‘favorite’ button when the song concluded. It’s only 56 seconds long, but I think it’s one of the most sophisticated pieces she has written, especially when combined with the beautifully shot and composed video.
“Balloons” is a song I once played on repeat when I was fifteen, and hearing it again after all these years was like a punch in the gut—but in a good way. It’s funny how different songs affect us differently, particularly songs that are new to us vs. songs that are old favorites. These “old” songs have infinite memories attached to them, and listening to them again puts you right back where you were all those years ago.
Our journey with Julia ends where it started—with a girl and her ukulele. Nothing more, nothing less. A combination so simple yet so adept at pulling at your heartstrings like nothing else can. “Settle Down” is certainly an emotional journey, and “Waiting”, in all it’s simplicity, is possibly the most emotionally evocative track on the entire album—although, it’s hard to say. Perhaps it’s all in the placement. You’re already emotionally stilted from the beautiful, deeply powerful album you just listened to, and somehow by the end of it all it takes is a few beautifully sung notes to make you crumble. Like any great song, her album has wonderful dynamics. From the resounding fortes of “Odd” to the intimate pianissimos in “Waiting”, she captures your heart and your mind. You listen to stories of crushes, of relationships gone awry, of break-ups, of lost loves, and could be loves; of childhood and of actualization; of anger and sadness and hope and fear. So it’s easy to see why the final track is so powerful.
“Someone is waiting for me,” Julia croons.