The release earlier this year of Aviary, the fifth album by Julia Holter, saw her return to the experimental roots of her debut album. It’s a fascinating album of layers and compartments that consolidates her position as one of the most inventive and forward-thinking artists around.
She plays with a five-piece band for most of tonight’s show at new venue EartH in Dalston but begins the show alone on stage behind her keyboard to play In Gardens’ Muteness, one of the many beautifully crafted artistic statements on Aviary. Tracks like this act as a counterbalance to the more leftfield passages on the album and one such piece follows immediately, Turn The Light On registering at the other end of her musical spectrum, primal and engulfed in darkness. Whether comes next, cryptic and obtuse but also with propelled melody and expanded scale. It also shows how her band is fundamentally tight yet also able to free themselves up when needed to be as flexible and nimble as the music requires. They provide a colourful musical palette for the songs, featuring the lesser seen bagpipes and flugelhorn among the synthesisers, double bass, percussion and viola.
She dips back into Have You In My Wilderness for the rolling sounds of Silhouette before returning to Aviary for the proggy, avant-garde stylings of Chaitius, an outré melange of string-based sound cycles that accurately pinpoints her current musical whereabouts. The same could be said of Underneath the Moon, an effervescent sorbet of refreshing flavours that seems even more illuminated and open tonight. Colligere slows things down again, being the closest she gets to a contemporary classical sound on Aviary and also serving as a reminder of how she adheres to no rules when creating her mysterious, enigmatic music. While there is nothing wrong with EartH’s downstairs, standing-only space as a venue, tracks like this however would probably be more suited to one of London’s seated venues.
Les Jeux To You moves in a more whimsical pop direction before she reverts to the gorgeously still beauty of I Would Rather See and Words I Heard. She also finds time to play Sea Calls Me Home from Have You In My Wilderness, whistling the melody towards the end. She closes her set with what she labels “two love songs”, namely I Shall Love 1 and I Shall Love 2 from the new album. The former has an almost shamanic, quasi-religious fervour to it while the latter begins with confectionery-like lightness before building towards something more substantial. Together, they sort of act as a microcosm of the album showing its scale and ambition.
The encore sees her return to play Why Sad Song and Betsy On The Roof, proving she’s still an astral voyager of considerable talent. Through her seemingly endless sources of inspiration she’s able to detach herself from the day-to-day realities of the world and present intriguing, beautiful musical alternatives for others to lose themselves in. It’s a skill you imagine she’ll only get even better at over time.