Sunday 25 February 2018

The ecstasy of a truly beautiful original sound

John Meagher

John Meagher

album of the week

Julia Holter




Technically speaking, Julia Holter is a singer-songwriter. But the term feels hopelessly inadequate when describing the music of the Los Angeles-based experimentalist.

This is the 28-year-old's second album – and first to be released on this side of the pond (having earned rave reviews in the US earlier this year) – and it's about as far from those legions of acoustic guitar troubadours as you can get.

The range and breadth of influences and ideas that can be discerned on virtually every track is quite something and Holter's exquisite compositional gifts make the album a richly rewarding listen.

Ekstasis – it's Greek for "standing outside oneself" – is a wonderfully atmospheric collection that utilises all manner of instrumentation, found sounds and recording tricks.

Yet, remarkably, this meticulously arranged and expansive album was made by Holter in her bedroom. Technological advances show what visionary artists can achieve today – lavish studios and big-name producers can be bypassed by those with a singular vision and recording know-how.

Many of those who first hear this album are likely to think of Laurie Anderson – whose singular career has hop-scotched between the avant-garde and the commercial.

Holter's vocals share the same sort of ballpark as Anderson's – engaging, yet curiously disaffected and disembodied.

There are lyrical similarities too – dreams and rituals feature heavily – and Holter shares Anderson's unwillingness to write songs with simple meanings.

Ekstasis makes no apologies for its seriousness or vision, but it does not necessarily make for a difficult listen.

In the Same Room is a bittersweet meditation on longing and memories and its mechanised handclaps and discordant drum machine helps enhance its sense of mystery and otherworldliness. Moni Mon Ami, meanwhile, is a gorgeous, gossamer-delicate number that shimmers in its understated synths and strings.

Art school graduate Holter has been inspired by literature and part of the pleasure of Ekstasis for the discerning listener is detecting those references to Virginia Woolf, Frank O'Hara and others.

She made her Irish debut at the Forbidden Fruit festival this summer, but a stand-alone date here will be in the offing soon.

KEY TRACKS Fur Felix; In the Same Room

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