Music

Julia Holter Produces Her Most Ambitious Work Yet with 'Aviary'

Photo: Tonje Thilesen / Courtesy of Motormouth Media

With her new record, Aviary, Julia Holter expands her scope to include elements of free improvisation, neo-classical leanings, and folk-induced hallucinations, thereby producing a substantial work of art.

Aviary
Julia Holter

Domino

26 October 2018

Julia Holter first appeared in the singer-songwriter scene in 2011 with her debut record Tragedy. With her first record, Holter created a captivating sound, relying on electronic components, and crafting her art pop vision around musique concrete, ambient, and drone notions. Her sophomore full-length Ekstasis saw her continue with her electronic experimentations and ambient leanings, but controlling their presence in a more firm manner. The real breakthrough came with Loud City Song, a stellar release that saw Holter move into the avant-pop domain, crafting a record that thrived under its experimental guise but on the other hand, producing a more direct result. The follow-up Have You in My Wilderness saw the promise of a more straightforward and direct sound come full circle, with the record being the most accessible of Holter's works and yet losing none of the songwriter's mesmerizing touch.

Holter has produced works on opposite ends of the experimental spectrum, from the more avant-garde sounds of Tragedy and Ekstasis to the dream pop-infused indie quality of Have You in My Wilderness. Having travelled to these extremes now she sets out to unleash her most ambitious work to date in the 90 minutes long Aviary. With the 15 songs of her new album, Holter presents a complete and holistic experience, building from the bottom up sonic worlds and intriguing journeys through immersive dreamscapes.

The arrangements and the extended instrumentation are an intrinsic part of Aviary, and this becomes very clear from the very beginning of "Turn the Light On". The power with which the track arrives is astounding, and the manner in which the progression turns into a stream of consciousness type of rendition makes the endeavor that much more extraordinary. This leaning towards improvisation is clear throughout the record, and the jazz aesthetic that is introduced in the opening track is revisited constantly. This experimentation creates a further layer of sonic richness, resulting in an amazing tapestry of sounds that Holter meticulously explores.

From the improvisational aspect, Holter jumps to a neo-classical area, mirrored in the instrumentation and the progression of the music. "Colligere" arrives with this majestic touch, unveiling the more subtle aspects of Aviary. Similarly, "Worlds I Heard" explores a more delicate path, in the process creating a transcendental work. On the other end, "I Shall Love 1" makes use of these neo-classical leanings for a more impressive and poignant effect, combined with a slightly tighter rhythmic progression to build one of the more powerful moments of the record. From this almost militaristic rendition, Holter performs further experimentations with the rhythmic component. "Underneath the Moon" is such a moment with Holter crafting a pseudo-tribal backbone for the track to create an intoxicating overture, further displaying her more adventurous nature.

All the main aspects that made Holter such an enticing artist still find their way in Aviary. The baroque pop element with its retro characteristics is still prevalent. "Whether" is an example of that modus operandi, with its off-kilter rhythms working wonders in creating retro atmospherics. The playful melodies of "Voce Simul" further display this quality of Holter's vision, while "Les Jeux to You" takes this playful perspective to a whole different level. The track is adventurous, and Holter treats it almost like a sandbox, a place where she can fully explore the extent of her vision, and this process results in one of the most interesting moments of the record.

The same playful attitude is applied to find intersections between diverse musical genres, from blues and jazzy themes to folkish twist. "Chaitius" is an instance where this folk perspective rises to the surface, as Holter creates a potent ambiance for the magical realm she has created. "Voce Simul" explores some of the same pathways but instead arrives with a more emotional and almost mournful tone, displaying the more delicate side of Holter's music in an elegant and minimal manner.

This elegant approach is also at the center when the dream pop parts of the record arrive. Here Holter investigates the ethereal soundscapes of her music and constructs immersive dreamscapes from these. "Another Dream" is an example of this approach, unveiling a very subtle and elegant narrative. Even more subtle is "I Shall Love 2", which stars from a minimal beginning and slowly expands to a terrifying presence, something analogous to the progression of "I Would Rather See". Still, this melodic leaning does not suggest that Holter does not experiment with dissonance and more unconventional sounds. "Everyday Is an Emergency" sees the songwriter produce a much harsher offering, using sharp cacophony to create a more hostile environment. Aided in that case by the improvisational nature of the record and the multitude of instruments, the result becomes even more menacing.

Holter has always been able to force opposing musical entities into a coherent result, but the degree to which she has been able to do this in Aviary is mind-blowing. Not only does the album feature all the characteristics that build Holter's identity as a musician, but she has expanded her vision by adding new ideas regarding progression, instrumentation, and scope. It is the summation of all these parts that make Aviary such an excellent album, and one that will be very hard to follow.

9
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.