Following up Chastity Belt’s I Used To Spend So Much Time Alone is Julia Shapiro’s Perfect Version, which revisits this state of isolation in a refreshingly vulnerable and sincere way. This time, Shapiro is solo and detaching from the band that once sang about pussy, weed, and beer.
From punk to ambient to meditative, Shapiro is on the verge of growing up and coming to terms with the burdens that follow. Perfect Version confronts the inevitable internal conflicts that are a critical part of getting older and feeling this need to pin down your identity like you could find it somewhere on a map. Like there’s a perfect version somewhere out there, but pieces are still missing. Shapiro is sorting through all the pieces she has, trying to see which ones fit together and where, while also wondering if there are more. There are just so many possibilities.
Shapiro’s voice is that of a tour guide as she presents us simple places from her everyday life, from parking lots she smokes in, to streets she looks for parking on, to her room where she ruminates alone. Perfect Version travels through her routine, showcasing the most significant moments in which the intensity of her emotion is bursting at the seams.
On the title track, “Perfect Version,” she admits, “I’ve spent all my time just trying to be / As close as I can to the perfect version of me,” and, ultimately, it is this album that serves as the documentation of that attempt to dig out what she has to do to be the best version of herself. In the process, she recognizes everything in a different light, and can’t always be saved by the comfort of having someone by her side. The result can be messy: “Another week of confused reality / Hiding from what truly makes me happy / Well I tried, well I tried / Hit a lot of lows and a couple highs,” she sings on “A Couple Highs.”
When it comes to thinking, it is Shapiro’s most troubling habit. “There are so many things I’d rather do / But here I sit in this box feeling blue / Hard to think about / Harder to do,” she signs on “Harder To Do,” which can partly account for her struggle with attaining her perfect version of herself. She’s aware of the different routes she can take to achieve it, but the thought weighs on her mind like a burden, which makes it practically impossible for her to take actions toward it. The whole song transforms into a cathartic, shoegaze instrumental, and it feels like spiritual and thoughtful.
There is a similar moment in “Shape” during which Shapiro cries, “I can’t fit into that shape,” and the music floats off into dreamy territory, unconfined and overflowing. These instrumentals are a testament to Shapiro’s claim: she can’t fit into one specific shape; she can’t stay in the box she’s put in; she can’t remain in the one place you expect her to be.
There’s still something lighthearted about the situation. She’s young and enduring the obligatory crisis that comes with being alive. On “I Lied,” she ruminates, “I should really delete my Instagram / What happens when we die?” which humorously conveys the ways in which technology has infiltrated the modern troubled conscience. When it comes to changing and honing ourselves, these external factors matter almost as much as the internal.
Then, she sings, “I should really be more present / I should go to bed at a reasonable hour / But what’s the fun in that / It’s impossible to keep your life together,” bringing her to the fruitless question of: Is there any use in trying? There must be, even if this question crosses her mind, because she persists past it. Even if it’s impossible to keep your life together, the smallest of efforts can still make changes. “It’s a riot, laughing and crying,” she sings.
“Empty Cup” is the perfect conclusion to this soul-searching experience. Shapiro confesses, “Now that you’re gone / I can hear my own thoughts / Was it a waste of time / Or a bridge I had to cross?” which explains what triggered this introspection in the first place. There is a lot of talk of being alone on this album, but it is mostly this new sense of loneliness or isolation that follows the absence of another whose presence was constant, so constant that she couldn’t hear her own thoughts. Now that’s she’s left on her own, she asks, “What comes next?” and then answers, “A lasting sense of self.” And as she spends even more time alone, that self will be discovered, developed, and savored.