Release Date: Aug 20, 2013
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Some time in 1995 the minimalist composer Steve Reich walked around outside his home in New York City and recorded various noises from around the metropolis: car horns, scraps of conversation, roadway construction. The result of these assorted recordings was City Life, often considered one of Reich’s most vital late-career compositions despite its doubling back on tape-loop techniques found in his earliest works, 1965’s It’s Gonna Rain and 1966’s Come Out. Before City Life and after it, many artists working in many different traditions and media have tackled the subject of The City--whether it be Reich’s New York, the city as a metaphysical entity, or some unnamed everycity--but Reich’s work seems to me especially pertinent in discussing how we approach these works, among them Julia Holter’s stunning new album, Loud City Song.
With last year’s startling Ekstasis, Julia Holter made a pocket-world novel. You’ve probably read one as a kid, be it The Secret Garden or The Chronicles of Narnia, the kind of stories that make up more story, finding fantasy in a past that seems surreal. Ekstasis is like walking through a garden to find the place nobody else can go, or shaking off the creaky woodwork of a house for snow at the end of a wardrobe.
Describing how a record sounds is unimportant, unless you’re trying to sell it (or save someone from wasting their money); doing so just reduces the thing to a bunch of tastes, a shopping list of probable adjectives. The music we keep listening to has a life beyond the sounds, a web of possibilities they engender through being listened to, a promise that goes beyond and outside being passively acquired, listened to, and filed away somewhere; it becomes less a record and more a window to a private language we access and reconstruct each time we hear it. As such, each experience we have with important records are at once a process of production and a product we experience, and Loud City Song feels as though it were made from the same process — a deep connection with the text (Gigi, Frank O’Hara, who knows what else) mingling with the personal.
"There's a flavor to the sound of walking no one ever noticed before," Julia Holter sings at one point on her third album, Loud City Song, and if anyone could notice that, it would be her. Holter excels at bringing emotional depth to her high-concept music and never more so than on this set of songs, which feels as ambitious as Tragedy and Ekstasis, but more down to earth. This may be her most accessible work yet, perhaps because of its relatively contemporary setting: drawing from Colette's 1944 novella Gigi (as well as the 1958 musical film it inspired), Loud City Song explores the city, celebrity, the individual, and love in fin de siècle Paris and 21st century Los Angeles, blurring them together in ways that get at more universal truths.
Julia Holter’s breakthrough album, 2012’s home-recorded ‘Ekstasis’, concerned itself with obstacles in the way of human connection. Although bewitching, its considered ambience might have proved a comparable obstacle for listeners who don’t believe some music rewards patience. Excitingly, ‘Loud City Song’ has an immediate pop whirl that should make Holter’s genius apparent to all, without sacrificing the California Institute Of The Arts graduate’s knack for intricacy.
Julia Holter's third LP (following 2011's Tragedy, which was based on the Ancient Greek play Hippolytus, and the timeless Ekstasis) finds its muse in contemporary '50s cinema. Ostensibly a straightforward, heel-clicking MGM musical, Gigi (the muse) strikes the modern viewer as a kind of accidental horror: in marrying Gaston Lachaille, a sultry and unreliable (if very rich) celebrity, the titular adolescent shamelessly punctures her nonconformist passion and learns to idolize her villainously bourgeois, elitist aunt. Beneath the glitzy surface there's a glossed-over disquiet that likewise pervades Loud City Song, a record whose eerie lulls and sudden crescendos are designed to emulate swarming paparazzi.
Loud City Song is Julia Holter‘s third album in three years, and it’s fair to say that it represents something of a milestone for the Californian native. It’s her first studio album for one thing – where previous records Tragedy and Ekstasis were recorded alone in her bedroom, Loud City Song sees Holter employ a full band and record in the studio for Domino Records. Lyrically it also sees her moving away from previous topics such as Ancient Greece and instead basing something of a concept album around the topic of celebrity in Los Angeles, while also referencing the 1958 musical Gigi.
Julia HolterLoud City Song[Domino; 2013]By Rob Hakimian; August 28, 2013Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOGTweetJulia Holter has achieved quite a feat; Loud City Song is her third album, and all three of her albums have been released in consecutive years. Rather than each release seeming more rushed or predictable than the one prior, she’s managed to go the other way, with each subsequent album building upon the palette and originality set out by its predecessor. This can only be attributed to Holter’s talent and commitment to her music.
In an early scene in the still-fascinating, delightfully bizarre 1958 MGM musical Gigi, a few characters enter a restaurant called Maxim’s. The vibe is Moulin Rouge meets Cheers: a frenetic, turn-of-the-century Parisian haunt where, for better or worse, everybody knows your name. When each couple enters Maxim’s-- yes, couple; somehow you get the sense that it would be social suicide for a respectable lady of the time to step foot in the place unaccompanied-- a crowd of patrons begins to chant in a hushed, gossipy tone.
If ever there was a contemporary example of the parallels between music and art then Julia Holter would be an appropriate case in point. Of course, music is art – it tells a story, provokes emotion, elicits thought and incites debate – but rarely are musicians truly ‘artists’. Julia Holter is an artist, one who’s virtuosic and creates more than just sound: her songs paint abstract pictures where it’s the little details that count.
Julia Holter’s first deep dive into the studio is a headphone-friendly marriage of songwriting and quiet architecture. Tragedy and Ekstasis were expertly crafted collections that lifted from new-age sky-gazing and layered Cocteau Twins–esque sound sculpture. And here, Holter shows an even greater grasp, building up tracks into a fusion between the early vocal Eno records and Joni Mitchell’s divisive Hissing of Summer Lawns.
Since her breakthrough album, Tragedy, LA bedroom composer Julia Holter has tethered her music to loose thematic frameworks behind her ephemeral style of songwriting. Tragedy was a spacious take on Euripedes' Hippolytus, and last year's Ekstasis looked back to ancient Greece for inspiration as well, even as Holter moved toward an increasingly song-oriented approach that took cues from artists like Laurie Anderson and Kate Bush.For her first album on Domino, Holter's nudged her soft sense of historical play forward, oh, about 2300 years. Loud City Song is a nod to the Gigi, the 1948 French novella, and the 1958 musical of the same.
The intricate, layered artballads of Julia Holter’s wondrous second album Ekstasis bought her to a global – albeit selective – audience. And that's not something she's going to toss away as she seizes her moment and piles on the ambition to make her Domino debut with Loud City Song. A shifting, shimmering, extremely opaque song cycle, the album is a bona fide art project for which Holter reclaimed a bunch of songs she had demoed prior even to the release of her 2011 debut Tragedy.
Loud City Song is that rare, refreshing, and inspiring album that simply aspires to be a world unto itself. Pulling equally from modern classical, Tin Pan Alley musicals, musique concrète, and what can only be described as avant-pop as descendant from forebears such as Kate Bush and David Bowie, the album resists and even violently squirms away from attempts at categorization. While at first blush it would seem that "avant-pop" is an effective catch-all, the truth is very little of Loud City Song veers in that direction.
Julia Holter's latest sheds some light on a very modern concern: the celebrity-obsessed media and its incessant reportage. Although there are no direct odes to Kim Kardashian's baby weight or the Mail Online sidebar, Holter certainly gives an abstract, jazz-electro interpretation of that world. Horns Surrounding Me features breathless panting as if running from the paparazzi, while World laments on a "singer on the fifth floor" with vocals so full of whispered intent that you can almost feel hot breath on your neck.
In an interview (conducted by himself) promoting 1984 concert film Stop Making Sense, eccentric genius David Byrne argued that “the better the singer’s voice, the harder it is to believe what they’re saying. ” While Byrne wasn’t claiming that this was a hard and fast rule, the statement held a lot of weight in a world where so many strong voices got gobbled up by the pop music machine only to be rendered indistinguishable from each other. There’s still some of that going on, to be sure, but there’s also the enhanced potential to discover the outliers, those that go beyond the presumed either/or binary in music of technical proficiency and experimental, artistic depth.
Loud City Song is Julia Holter’s third full-length release, but her first studio album. As such, it’s more ambitious in scale than Ekstasis and Tragedy, but no less cerebral, even as it turns away from those records’ erudite antique motifs to more contemporary themes. Gigi, a 1950s musical film about a courtesan in Paris, provides Loud City Song’s narrative, and present-day Los Angeles, the nucleus of bizarre celebrity culture, gives Holter her locale, title and a rich pool of emotions and images to draw on.
Loud City Song begins quietly, above the city. “Heaven, all the heavens of the world.” An urban stargazer distracted by the quiet sky, soon brought back to earth: “Are you looking for anything?” The album is often like this: Julia Holter sings a line or two from one perspective and then shifts without notice, capturing at once the anonymity and singularity of urban life. Any city is like every city if you look at it from above.
Over three years and three albums, Julia Holter has crafted a world best lit by the faint candlelight of her voice; it’s at once cavernous and intimate, unknowable but richly detailed, a world best learned by feeling your way around its odd corners. Where 2011’s “Tragedy” drew its colors and themes from Euripedes’ “Hippolytus,” and 2012’s “Ekstasis” found Frank O’Hara and Virginia Woolf drifting through its halls, Holter’s referential absorption is again at work on “Loud City Song,” drawing its cinematic intimacy from the 1958 film, “Gigi. ” Lyrically, Holter’s elegantly freewheeling ellipticism recalls David Grubbs or Laurie Anderson; but musically, she has a tenderly limned strangeness that conjures Owen Pallett or Joanna Newsom.
If Julia Holter wanted to craft an epic romantic drama, there’s one less thing that she has to worry about: the soundtrack. Her new album, the follow-up to last year’s Ekstasis, is exactly the kind of score you’d expect from a film adaptation of a Greek legend about star-crossed lovers.In the album’s melancholy opener, “World,” Holter is tousled in an air of mystery as she mouths lines that could double as a herald of forbidden love. “Are you looking for anything?/Heaven, with eyes bright green/Every day my eyes are older/I grow a bit closer to you,” she sings almost inaudibly.
‘World’, the first track on Julia Holter’s third record, Loud City Song, begins with just her voice, bird-like and ethereal, alone and beautiful. There’s barely any instrumentation at all. As she sings, ‘All the hats of the world/ I don’t know how I wear a hat so much/ Even when I run/ The city can’t see my eyes/ Under the brim’, it’s utterly gorgeous, understated and minimal – and sets the scene for a record which is a beautiful meditation on living in the city, the album’s title becoming almost ironic.‘Loud City Song’ is a concept album of sorts, one that starts with the choice of whether to run out in the wild and be free of others, or to be one with the city and embrace it.
Loudness isn't a quality one associates with Julia Holter. Her previous two releases, Tragedy and Ekstasis, were anything but brash – not restrained, exactly, because she drew on a well of emotion for moments of unexpected power, but they were mostly gentle, pensive albums. And although she is a Los Angeles native and resident, her songs showed little sign of their urban origins.