Here are links to a few reviews of Julia Holter’s latest, Loud City Song.
Ultimately, Holter doesn’t choose between the city and the wild, isolation and the collective. She says that the album is “about someone trying to find love and truth in a superficial society,” and it’s that deliberation and striving that it dramatises effectively. These are predominantly questions of youth and, accomplished as Holter is, she also sounds like someone still trying to figure things out. There is a searching, open-ended quality to her work, despite Loud City Song and Tragedy‘s impressive conceptual integrity. Each release is distinct and yet overlapping, like circles in a Venn diagram: ‘Goddess Eyes’ premiered on one album and appeared, twice, on the next; ‘Maxim’s II’ originated in the Ekstasis sessions.
But the album doesn’t end with mismatched intentions, outsider status, and frustrated communication with the world. The light bounce of “This Is A True Heart” announces the difference, the trait that keeps Holter from falling into the bile of the gossipy society, from fading into jaded emptiness, and from that trap of the good voice that Byrne described. “These are true words/ speak heart,” she coos, over a breezy bed of fluttering flute, trombone bursts, and pizzicato strings, all wrapped together by an impossibly slinky tenor sax. That knowledge of self and willingness to speak it in the face of judgment, scrutiny, and dismissal is a rare power, Holter’s inner voice just as strong as her physical one.
Like Gigi herself, it is a work of perpetual self-invention, an extended state of becoming. Have pity on the inquisitory birds, because it’s impossible to look away.
Though there’s definitely a narrative arc to the record, it doesn’t stick so close to the Gigi script to become tedious; Loud City Song moves with an internal logic that’s more impressionistic than literal. Some of its pieces do stand sturdily on their own, but taken in one sitting the album unfurls like one long, thoughtfully arranged composition– lyrics and images recur, and characters gradually evolve. The narrator at the center (Gigi? Holter? Some kind of poetic hybrid of the two?) begins as a detached, observant outsider– just another anonymous face gazing curiously at the city below from the perch of her fifth-floor walk-up (“I don’t how why I wear a hat so much,” Holter sings beneath the sparse groan of a cello on the opening song, “World”, “The city can’t see my eyes under the brim.”) But by the end– the second-to-last track, “This Is a True Heart” prances like a lazy-Sunday carousel ride– she sounds not only more vulnerable but lighter, too. In a way, the arc of Loud City Song mirrors Holter’s artistic evolution: Ekstasis found kindred spirits in statues and goddesses (“I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry,” she repeated on “Goddess Eyes II”, cloaked in a vocoder), but the psychologically complex narrator at the heart of Loud City Song moves like flesh and blood.
A beautiful reminder that we’re all doomed.