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Julia Holter

A modern-age avant-garde composer influenced by LINDA PERHACS, JULEE CRUISE and LAURIE ANDERSON, Julia stepped out of a musical family – her dad played guitar for folk legend PETE SEEGER – to become an accessible, all-round artist for Domino Records.
Born Julia Shammas Holter, December 18, 1984, Los Angeles, California, she graduated from CalArts with an electronic music degree. While she duly worked with the “4 Women No Cry” project in ’08 (Vol.3, to be exact), other indie V/A compilations (including “Dublab”) and as a performer with the revised LINDA PERHACS band, the odd solo release emerged under her full Christian name; “Eating The Stars” (2007) and the 40-minute/CD-r track “Cookbook” (2008) maintaining a low profile.
Whether finance was beginning to be a problem for her expensive electronic hobby, well, a fresh decade sought out a fully-fledged label to expand her musical horizons; the CD-r “Celebration” (2010) for Engraved Glass and a “Live Collection” (2010) for NNA Tapes selling out almost immediately; both were hardly going to increase her status outside the confines of arty L.A. And although her bona fide “bedroom” debut for Leaving Records: TRAGEDY (2011) {*7} – inspired by Euripides’ Greek play “Hippolytus” – was hardly a commercial breakthrough, tracks such as the 9-minute `Celebration’ and `Try To Make Yourself A Work Of Art’, likened her to LAURIE ANDERSON fronting STEREOLAB.
Her voice now as much an instrument as her simplistic electro noodling, the cerebral pop song cycle of sophomore set, EKSTASIS (2012) {*8} didn’t go unnoticed by Domino Records, who immediately bought the licence from RVNG Intl. While one can hear the distinctive ringing of JULIANNA BARWICK in ones ears, or even the weird and wonderful KLAUS NOMI, Julia approached her ambient-pop with emotion and ritual, music such as `Marienbad’, the kooky `Fur Felix’ and the ethereal `Boy In The Moon’, blessed with the power of minimalism.
Songs whispered to a minimal band-accompanied backbeat, 2013’s LOUD CITY SONG {*9} took its cue from Colette’s war-time novella, Gigi (and from its movie musical counterpart in ‘58). Dreamier than little fluffy clouds, the highlights of this delicate set were `Maxim’s I’, `Maxim’s II’ and `World’, while in the other corner of a darkened room, the score-like orchestration of `Horns Surrounding Me’, could give a fantasy-fuelled ANNA CALVI-at-the-movies a run for her money. Best listened to alone at night without mushrooms or any hallucinogenic, torch song `Hello Stranger’ will grow with time, while one can almost hear MICK KARN (by way of Devin Hoff) flex his bass muscle on the Gallic-pop ditty, `This Is A True Heart’. But just where does Julia find the time to tutor to classes of children, and also collaborate with NITE JEWEL (aka Ramona Gonzalez).
Following on from her previous gemstone, the proof that she’d finally been granted an audience, was, when the literary and intimate HAVE YOU IN MY WILDERNESS (2015) {*8} reached the Top 30 – at least in Britain. Voice of a aerie-faerie angel yet to earn her wings, the joyous bells were ringing on the almost upbeat opening salvos `Feel You’ and `Silhouette’, while HOLTER’s best impressions of DIETRICH and NICO enriched `How Long?’. Piano-led and funereal in eclectic leaps and bounds, the 6-minute chansons `Betsy On The Roof’, the narrative `Vasquez’ and `Lucette Stranded On The Island’ had slow-burner appeal, but it was in her uplifting “beachcomber” charm on `Sea Calls Me Home’ that edged her as the day’s best female star.
Always willing to stretch the boundaries beyond experimental pop (and scoring half the OST to the Ben Younger movie, Bleed For This), HOLTER stepped out of her (un-)comfortable zone for a live-in-doors work-out, IN THE SAME ROOM (2017) {*7}; the time: August 23-24, 2016; the place: RAK Studios, London. The well-executed plan (initiated by Domino Records) was to re-vamp her most definitive songs so far; and somehow it all came together beautifully.
Following from her score to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s cult classic silent movie, The Passion Of Joan Of Arc (premiered in September 2017 at downtown L.A.’s FIGat7th), Julia began working with producers Cole MGN and Kenny Gilmore on her next outing, AVIARY (2018) {*8}. While one can’t compare the record to her previous works, the eerie ethereal pieces are as close to chamber-pop and/or classical avant-garde. Here she admits to being inspired by ALICE COLTRANE, VANGELIS’ “Blade Runner” and a quote by Lebanese-American author Etel Adnan. At 90 minutes long, the double-CD was equal measures sprawling cacophony (as with opening cut `Turn The Light On’, `Everyday Is An Emergency’ and `Another Dream’), VIRGINIA ASTLEY-like experimental (`Chaitius’) and kooky off-kilter accessible (`Whether’). The record did have a problem with OTT length, however, after repeated listens, Julia infused the pastoral power of, say, BJORK; `Voce Simul’ a perfect example. `I Shall Love 1’ sounded something akin to a Scottish bagpipe/brass/orchestral kraut-rock mantra to wake up the deceased, whilst its Disc 1 counterpart, `I Shall Love 2’, recalled, in part, JOHN CALE’s classic `Ship Of Fools’. HOLTER’s uplifting motifs and nocturnal nuances were finally present and correct on `Words I Heard’; and songs yet to flourish, including `Colligere’ and `In Gardens’ Muteness’.
© MC Strong/MCS Dec2013-Nov2018

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