Julia Holter makes joyous, avant-garde chamber pop. Or at least she did, until the release of her new album, Aviary. Whilst previously the LA-based artist squeezed her experimental sensibilities into pop structures, with this latest release, she altogether untethers her creativity. The result is thrilling, and we predict that the accompanying live shows will be too. One of the most intimate of these will be at Manchester’s Gorilla on the 6 December. It might be a good idea to get a ticket sooner rather than later for this one.
Since 2011’s Tragedy, Julia Holter has been blurring the boundaries between indie, classical and electronic music. Unapologetically smart, her work is often inspired by myths, plays and poetry, and is frequently laden with literary references. Though at first glance it seems like this might prove somewhat of a barrier for many people, her songs are so naturally immersive that often it really doesn’t matter what they mean so much as how they make you feel. Most often, that feeling is a sort of otherworldly calm; Holter’s music seems to invite the listener to inhabit a strange, weightless world for a while. One where everything… shimmers.
Holter’s early work was decidedly abstract, featuring hazy vocal melodies which floated in and out of ambient textures and loose song structures. With each album she made, though, her propensity for pop grew. 2015’s Have You In My Wilderness represented the zenith of this aesthetic. Featuring pristinely written tunes like ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ and ‘Feel you’, Holter’s experimentalism is tempered by what is essentially a pop formula. On tracks like these, Nico-like vocals soar majestically above lush, string-led instrumentation, with the singer’s personality really coming to the fore.
So she proved that she can write a great pop album. Where to go from there?
Well, ‘do something entirely different but equally brilliant’, is the answer that Holter has put forth in the form of her follow-up record, Aviary. Sprawling out over 90 minutes, this album comprises of eccentric, non-linear tracks which immerse the listener in fifteen unique worlds. Within these, Holter indulges in the wildest experimentation of her career, sometimes in ways that extend ideas that she’s hinted at before, and sometimes in ways that are totally new.
The opener, ‘Turn the Light On’, sums up the album. Bursting with joy and wonder, a chaotic tumult of strings flit from one moment of euphoria to the next, without any real overarching structure to worry about. Holter’s voice commands it all, holding the reigns of chaos in her fists as she wails above the fever pitch strings. Electrified post-punk track ‘Whether’ comes next, and then the seemingly sweet ‘Chaitus’ – a track which fractures in the middle, morphing into a polyphonic, avant-garde spoken word piece which borrows phrases from a 12th-century Occitanian poem.
With the track ‘Everyday Is An Emergency’ following shortly after we begin to realise that chaos is a key theme of this album. Surely it’s no coincidence that 2018 is the year in which Holter has decided traverse this idea. The volatile state of the world today is being imprinted upon art of all kinds, and it’s clearly something which Holter wants to document herself. But beyond a documentation of chaos, there are also a number of meditative moments within this album. This suggests that there is sanctuary to be found within the storm. A personal highlight of the album is one such sanctuary: ‘In Gardens’ Muteness’. Reminiscent of the softer side of Thom Yorke’s recent Susperia soundtrack, it’s an intoxicating vocal and piano track which seems to offer us a position from which to catch a glimpse of rare beauty among the chaos.
And a rare beauty this album is. Surely one of the most masterful records of the year thus far, we can’t wait to experience Aviary in a live setting. With the Manchester Gorilla gig on the cusp of selling out, if you’d like to secure one of the last remaining tickets, act fast!