I became captivated by the beautiful Julia Holter upon hearing ‘Moni Mon Amie’, a poignant piece of music from her sophomore effort Ekstasis. I perused her back catalogue to discover a multi-instrumentalist with a tendency to craft meticulously mesmerising music. Music that seemed ethereal, bereft of any significant percussive presence, and peppered with seeming choral dissonance. It has been roughly a year since my encounter with the bedroom artist and now she has collaborated with an ensemble to produce the iconoclastic Loud City Song.
The most striking aspect of this LP is that, although retaining its celestial atmosphere, it is driven by an ever-present rhythm. This pattern of pulse finds itself manifest in the timbre of the double bass, the awkward time shifts of her vocal pieces, or (most obviously) in the surprisingly present percussion. A track that embodies the very spirit I’ve just described is ‘This is a True Heart’. The instrumentation makes her voice elusive, yet almost caustically inviting. It opens rather listlessly and spasmodically but quickly finds purpose as a timeless noir concomitant. The ensemble takes form most prominently here and douses us in velvety saxophone, guitar, and strings to a cathartic degree.
The increasingly elaborate instrumentation has not made her lose her sense of dynamic placement however. Her prior work is checkered with sudden shifts in pitch and direction, often breathtaking in scope. Such joyful experimentation is present on ‘Loud City Song’ as well, only that now not only is dissonance a plaything, so is gratuitous din. This is most evident on tracks such as ‘Maxim’s II’, as the ensemble swells and waxes, her voice wanes and retreats, building to an odd anticlimax. Seemingly recoiled, she recoups as the track builds into an intoxicated cadence of string, brass, and percussion.
It is dangerous to approach this album with any preconceptions; Julia tends to construct a piece of music as a composer would, as opposed to a band or studio production department. She allows each element the space to breathe in her airy atmosphere and they repay her in kind. The first part of her ‘Maxim’s’ opus accentuates this idea. The track is about the rather bizarre feeling of being scrutinised for seeming as if you’ve something to hide and the languidly major key progression somewhat quizzically (yet appropriately) juxtaposes this. It is this effect of dovetailing live instrumentation in concert with her voice that both perplexes and endears the album to me. My only gripe is that even though these new experimentations are astonishingly good, they are too far in between an album that still contains tracks seeing her voice occupy space for 4 minutes.
Loud City Song was released on Domino on the 20th of August 2013