Julia Holter

(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )

Tragedy (2011), 8/10
Ekstasis (2012) , 7/10
Loud City Song (2013), 6/10
Have You in My Wilderness (2015), 6/10

Julia Holter, a Los Angeles-based musician who had already flirted with John Cage on Cookbook (2009) and with musique concrete on Celebration (2010), was the epitome of the female singer-songwriter reinventing dream-pop for the digital age via Nico, Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Enya , Grouper and Zola Jesus. The six songs on Tragedy (Leaving, 2011) are the musical equivalent of mystical revelations, each one appearing in an altered state of the mind and each one evoking a another incommensurable dimension.
Hence in the nine-minute The Falling Age the ghostly slow-motion primordial wail emerging from a revolving black hole of electronica that sounds like the soundtrack to birthpangs; and in the eight-minute Tragedy Finale the distorted carillon mutating into lethargic breathing to let her gentle zombie whisper trigger a waltzing death chant with the dense electronic drones and the piano in a way akin to a greatly decelerated version of Robert Wyatt's Rock Bottom.
Her avantgarde libido jumps out of the ten-minute collage Celebration, a blend of a dozen different techniques, from skitting drum-machine beats to sparse chamber ambient music, from Bjork-ian balladry to melodramatic droning minimalism, from field recordings to abstract floating post-psychedelic vocals. So Lillies represents the perfect bridge between the two worlds: a confused rumble of found sounds, that moves from earthly chitchat to cosmic transmission, gets invaded by a deconstructed rap rigmarole, like a light version of Meredith Monk's vocal experiments, propelled by a techno beat and a harpsichord pulsation.
The shorter songs, namely the martial Nico-esque hymn Try To Make Yourself A Work Of Art and the gentle robotic lullaby Goddess Eyes, whose male counterpoint mimicks the rosary of Enya's Orinoco Flow, do not relieve the tension at all. They actually intensify whatever act of contrition Holter is performing inside her brain.

Holter opted for a less dramatic departure from the song format on Ekstasis (RVNG, 2012): shorter songs and more conventional singing. Ultimately, Our Sorrows, boasting Nico-esque exotic harmonium overtones, a military beat and a background of found voices, is just a soulful elegy (that ends in a lengthy coda of desolate Gregorian-Indian laments). Fur Felix is a charming glittering baroque slow-paced Enya-esque ditty. And In The Same Room is obviously her first shameless flirt with mainstream synth-pop. Goddess Eyes II sounds like a remix of Goddess Eyes by Laurie Anderson and Terry Riley. Four Gardens blends world-music, jazz-rock and electronic dance music.
Nonetheless, Marienbad exhibits a process of decomposition and recomposition, as a Renaissance-style sung in the register of a boys' choir slowly transforms into a driving Meredith Monk-ian game of recurring vocal patterns and into a driving overdubbed minimalist rigmarole.
The dilated hyper-psychedelic atmospheres of the previous album reincarnate as the eight minutes of languid drones of Boy In The Moon, whose ending ranks as one of the most harrowing musical renditions of the galactic void ever. The nine-minute This Is Ekstasis is actually a bluesy late-night ballad in disguise that decays into a surreal "la la" motif worthy of French film soundtracks of the Sixties.
This album is basically the poppy alter-ego of Tragedy: the same technique, but here they are administered to fully-formed songs. A sense of impending tragedy is indeed what this album inherits from the previous one.

(Translation by/ Tradotto da Alessio Morrone)

Julia Holter, una musicista di Los Angeles che ha già flirtato con John Cage su Cookbook (2009) e con la musica concreta su Celebration (2010), fu l'incarnazione della cantautrice donna che reinventa il dream pop per l'era digitale attraverso NicoKate BushTori AmosEnya Grouper e Zola Jesus. Le sei canzoni su Tragedy (Leaving, 2011) sono l'equivalente musicale di rivelazioni mistiche, dove ognuna appare in uno stato mentale alterato ed ognuna evoca un'altra incommensurabile dimensione.
Nei nove minuti di The Falling Age il lamento religioso primordiale in slow-motion emerge da un buco nero rotante di elettronica che suona come la colonna sonora di dolori del parto; e negli otto minuti di Tragedy Finale il carillon distorto muta in un respiro indolente per lasciare innescare al suo sussurro apatico e delicato un canto di morte che balla il walzer con i densi droni elettronici e il piano in maniera simile ad una versione molto rallentata di Rock Bottom di Robert Wyatt.
La sua libidine avanguardistica viene fuori nei dieci minuti del collage Celebration, una fusione di una dozzina di diverse tecniche, dai ritmi di drum-machine alla sporadica musica ambient da camera, dalla ballata Bjork-iana al droning minimalista melodrammatico, dai field recordings ai vocalizzi astratti fluttuanti post-psichedelici. So Lillies rappresenta il ponte perfetto tra due mondi: un rombo confuso di suoni trovati, che muove da una chiacchierata terrestre ad una trasmissione cosmica, viene invaso da una filastrocca rap decostruita, come una versione leggera degli esperimenti vocali di Meredith Monk, sospinta da un ritmo techno e una pulsazione di clavicembalo.
Le canzoni più brevi, cioè l'inno marziale à la Nico Try To Make Yourself A Work Of Art e la dolce ninnananna robotica Goddess Eyes, il quale contrappunto maschile imita il rosario della Orinoco Flow di Enya, non alleggeriscono affatto la tensione.
Holter optò per un allontanamento meno drammatico dal formato canzone su Ekstasis (RVNG, 2012): canzoni più brevi e canto più tradizionale. Alla fine, Our Sorrows, vantando sovratoni esotici di harmonium, un ritmo militare ed un sottofondo di voci trovate, è solo un'elegia profonda (che termina in una lunga coda di desolati lamenti Gregoriani-Indiani). Fur Felix è un graziosa canzoncina luccicante barocca à la Enya. E In The Same Room è evidentemente il suo primo flirt impudente con il synth-pop mainstream. Goddess Eyes II suona come un remix di Goddess Eyes di Laurie Anderson e Terry Riley. Four Gardens mescola world-music, jazz-rock e musica dance elettronica.
Tuttavia, Marienbad mostra un processo di composizione e decomposizione, quando uno stile Rinascimentale cantato nel registro di un coro maschile lentamente si trasforma in un gioco Meredith Monk-iano di stili vocali che si ripetono e in una filastrocca minimalista in overdubbing.
Le dilatate atmosfere iper-psichedeliche del precedente album si reincarnano negli otto minuti dei droni languidi di Boy In The Moon, il quale finale si classifica come una delle più strazianti interpretazioni musicali di sempre del vuoto galattico. I nove minuti di This Is Ekstasis sono una ballata blues notturna camuffata che degenera in un surreale motivo «la la» degno delle colonne sonore dei film Francesi degli anni sessanta.
Questo album è sostanzialmente l'alter ego pop di Tragedy: le stesse tecniche, ma qui sono somministrate a canzoni dalla forma completa. Il senso di imminente tragedia è certamente ciò che questo album eredita dal precedente.

Loud City Song (Domino, 2013), ostensibly inspired by Colette's novel "Gigi" (1944), marked a sudden drop in inspiration. Opting for an acoustic ensemble in place of her laptop, and for a slick production instead of bedroom atmosphere, Holter, most of the time horribly sedated, fumbles repeatedly in choosing the arrangements for her compositions. The sophisticated casting of cello, trumpet and harpsichord cannot elevate World much above the (very low) standard of slow torch songs. Maxim's I sinks somewhere between a Mersey-beat march and a dream-pop psalm. What could have been an interesting chamber coda, City Appearing, is ruined, yet again, by late-night soul-jazz embellishments. There is even a cover of Barbara Lewis' sleep-inducing Hello Stranger (1963), rendered as a whisper that glides into a nebula of electronic drones, an effect that borders on the most trivial kind of new-age music. What these polished arrangements deliver is a sense of arrogant pomp, not justified by the weak material.
She wakes up in the childish country-ish ditty In The Green Wild, but unfortunately she adds a drum-machine which gives the piece the feeling of Joni Mitchell in a 1990s disco. The pulsating Maxim's II has some merits, because the orchestra ends up (voluntarily or not) evoking circus music and at the same time a horror soundtracks, merging ideas from both neoclassical and jazz music. This Is a True Heart aims for catchy disco-pop that, at best, harks back to the lighter side of the movie soundtracks of the 1960s and, at worst, is simply lounge music masquerading as intellectual exercise.
This clumsy attempt at establishing herself as some kind of post-modernist pop chanteuse succeeds pretty much only in Horns Surrounding Me, introduced by a little bit of cacophony, propelled by minimalist-style orchestral repetition and sung by Holter billowing like mid-career Sinead O'Connor; but even that is a far cry from the magic of the first two albums.

The artistic regression continued on Have You in My Wilderness (Domino, 2015): Holter veered decisively into chamber pop a` la Beach Boys' Pet Sounds if not into mainstream pop. The highlight is the somnambulant melismatic Sea Calls Me Home that unfolds with a psychedelic John Lennon-esque pace (but with a raucous saxophone solo and Brian Wilson-esque harpsichords). The country shuffle Everytime Boots is pure entertainment, but very lightweight entertainment. There are intriguing instrumental ideas, like the disorienting symphonic vortex that ends Silhouette. And there is a well-intentioned variety of formats: the husky "femme fatale" delivery of How Long, Vasquez, a jazzy version of early Patti Smith's poetry in music, and Lucette Stranded on the Island, a chamber lied with strings and piano. Ultimately, however, there is too much filler (the lush single Feel You, Night Song, Betsy on the Roof).

(Translation by/ Tradotto da xxx)

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(Copyright © 2012 Piero Scaruffi | Terms of use )
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