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.
Although Long City Song couldn’t be described as a commercial record by any means, it’s certainly her most accessible. At times it can be hushed and fragile, at other times it sounds chaotic and unsettling. Yet throughout its nine tracks, it’s impossible to tear yourself away from it.
It’s bookended by World and City Appearing – two ballads that open and close the album quite beautifully. The former almost drips with world-weariness, a stark piano chord, a blanket of strings and some multi-tracked vocals accompanying Holter’s observations of a city at night – the lone singer with her eyes closed on a fifth floor window before a sighed question of “How can I escape you?”. City Appearing tackles similar imagery, but this time builds steadily up into a stirring post-rock climax.
Between these two glorious tracks the album bounces all over the place, in the best possible way. In The Green Wild has a jazzy double-bass introduction, which leads into the beautifully sad Hello Stranger, where Holter’s exquisite voice sounds better than it’s ever done previously. This Is A True Heart, meanwhile, is about the closest that Holter comes to a fully-fledged pop song, a twinkling, alto-sax enhanced number that veritably skips around.
As ever though, this wouldn’t be a Julia Holter album if there wasn’t some experimentation. Horns Surrounding Me begins with a sample of a breathless man running from some uncertain fate, and its edgy, paranoid air is reinforced by the song’s insistent brass signature running throughout the song. When it comes to abstract tracks though, nothing comes to close to Maxim’s II, a free-form jazz jam enlivened with bursts of nightmarish saxophone that sounds both compelling and vaguely terrifying.
What’s most impressive about Loud City Song is the way that Holter sounds equally at home on the more avant-garde numbers, such as Maxim’s II, and the more straight-ahead offerings such as the heart-wrenching He’s Running Through My Eyes, a gorgeous ballad that seems to convey more emotion in its two minutes than most other songs this year will, or the delightful bounce of In The Green Wild.
It’s certainly Holter’s most accomplished and imaginative album – indeed, there hasn’t been an album this packed with ideas since tUnE-yArDs‘ w h o k i l l a couple of years ago. Loud City Song could – and should – well be the album to propel Julia Holter, if not quite into the mainstream, then certainly to wider attention.