Release Date: Mar 12, 2012
Record label: RVNG Intl.
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Julia HolterEkstasis[RVNG; 2012]By Will Ryan; March 9, 2012Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetJulia Holter fits the bedroom musician bill as long as the defining tie between all functional bedroom acts is a sense of reflective, introverted isolation. But the level of sophistication and ambition on display in the Los Angeles musician's work so far exceeds those perimeters that Ekstasis as a product of time tinkering within the confines of a bedroom is hardly worth mentioning. Holter is a music school graduate with a background in classical piano, pioneering an invitingly skewed vision of pop music.
"I hear a lot of music that's just lazy-- you know, people in their bedrooms singing some shit into the microphone." That's California singer and songwriter Julia Holter, talking to Pitchfork recently. This passage from the interview leapt out at me because it gets at what makes her second full-length album special. Like a lot of home-recorded music in the indie sphere in the last few years, Ekstasis makes heavy use of atmosphere.
You make a statement when you lead your album with a track whose title references Last Year in Marienbad, either one of the greatest or one of the most pretentious films ever made; that statement being that those with no patience for a musician who wishes to be viewed as an artist should move along quickly. Ekstasis – first released earlier this year and now picked by Domino – strays towards pop on occasion (In the Same Room, notably), but it's the cerebral, detached pop of Laurie Anderson or, at a pinch, latterday Japan. Ekstasis is more of a mood piece than a collection of songs, with Holter layering her voice into glassy sheets above an ambient bed of synths, further disguising her already abstract lyrics – "3 2 2 1/ One word losing eye/ Dreams distance you come close," opens This Is Ekstasis.
Though technically her fifth studio album, last year's Tragedy on Leaving Records found diffuse-pop chanteuse Julia Holter finally stretching beyond the embrace of CD-R fetishism into the realms of experimental pseudo-celebrity. Though it wasn't necessarily a leap from the reclining textures and classically-structured take on ambient-pop music of her past, there were newly notable hints at more conventional songcraft and hooks that made it seem a somewhat novel approach to past work. Holter was beginning to forge something at once comfortably allusive—nods and winks to fifty years of minimalism and West Coast experimentalism—but also a distinctive brand of daydrift crawl.
A searching and ambitious work, Ekstasis is Julia Holter’s second full-length release, following last year’s similarly singular Tragedy, which was based on an Ancient Greek play. A solo effort recorded for the most part in her bedroom and driven by Holter’s desire “to get outside of my body and find what I can’t define,” the result is as compelling as it is mysterious and expansive. It is a record brimming with detail; flourishes that unfurl three, five, ten listens in before lodging themselves in your consciousness only to surface when you least expect.
Following her debut recording Tragedy, an uneasy and desperate portrayal of the play Hippolytus, Julia Holter has returned with a record of outstanding, graceful fantasia. The release is a remarkable leap forward within her creative orbit and reconciles the truthful, uncomfortable and experimental filaments of Tragedy with electro-magnetic pop hooks and progressive arrangements. The organic and mesmerizing elements of her first release are quite clearly fundamental in creating her unique and instinctual sound.
Magic exists, and we know it does – because if it didn’t, how could Julia Holter’s second release bewitch so thoroughly, right from the onset? A classically trained virtuoso from Los Angeles and friend of fellow pop sorceress Nite Jewel, she weaves ambience and pop music together on tracks such as ‘Our Sorrows’ and ‘Moni Mon Amie’ to cast dreamlike enchantments.In a buzzing world in which tranquility can often seem unattainable, Holter’s hymn-like offerings, powered by harpsichord and harmonium, demand more than mere background listening. Forget chart positions or blog hype: ‘Ekstasis’ reminds us that music can mean so much more.[i]Anne T Donahue[/i] .
Julia Holter’s Ekstasis is a challenging album. To be described as challenging, or even difficult in the realms of film and literature, is often a characterization that is delivered with the highest of praise, typically reserved for those works that through their very difficulty impart an emotional or intellectual impact upon their audience that rises to the level of greatness. There is a sense within these mediums that the greatest works of art are those which require the audience to earn their own reward by successfully navigating their dense, complex and multifaceted terrain.
Released earlier in the year in the US, Julia Holter's second album gets a welcome reissue in the UK by Domino, not least since it will feature on many end-of-year lists. Holter, a graduate in composition, marries a gauzy, bedroom-pop sensibility with formal rigour. More immediate songs such as In the Same Room are ineffably breezy, while other tracks illustrate her handle on ancient Greece (This is Ekstasis) and the uncommon control she has over textures and motifs, atmospheres and vocoders – somewhere between Laurie Anderson and Grimes.
Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.–‘Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot’ by Alexander Pope (1735) I agree. I ‘assent.’ Ekstasis is a lovely record. Bedroom pop that floats and swoons, it has a lightness to it at the same time as a real sense of seriousness and ambition.
Julia Holter‘s Ekstasis is difficult to categorize. An experimental, ambient pop record inspired by mythology, its unusual sound and lyrical narratives perhaps make its best contemporary companion Joanna Newsom’s Ys. Often very pretty, just as often very strange, Holter has crafted an album that reflects her unique vision, though it fails to captivate the whole way through.
In 2011, Julia Holter arrived seemingly armed with wisdom beyond her years. That wisdom translated into her first full-length, Tragedy. A masterful work based on Euripides' Hippolytus, it was an album filled with the sort of vocal layering and echo chamber work that would make Meredith Monk or Alexis O'Hara proud. The prolific Holter has returned already with Ekstasis (named after the Greek philosophical conception of a state of being outside of onself), her first for the RVNG label, and a more upbeat companion to Tragedy.
An artist vividly committed to exploring new frontiers in a rewarding way. Hari Ashurst 2012 On Julia Holter's previous record, Tragedy, she had a song called Try to Make Yourself a Work of Art. Even written down that's an interesting enough mantra, and one that Holter takes to the next level on Ekstasis – a piece of art so alive it feels like it could very well be sentient.The droning psychedelia of Our Sorrows is a good example.