Thursday, 5 April 2012

Julia Holter - Ekstasis


Julia Holter has been compared to a select few artists over the past few years. Her debut album Tragedy had delicious pop hooks among serious ambiance and industrial atmosphere which created a blend of originality in her own right. We know the comparisons so I won't spend too much time highlighting names like 'Laurie Anderson' and 'Julianna Barwick' because I'm sure you, the reader has seen these two names mentioned in just about every Julia Holter review, including my Tragedy review. The fact is that Julia takes her influences and takes their experimental music to the next, modern level. 

The opening track 'Marienbad' only raises her claim and profile as one of the worlds most upcoming experimental artists. The vocal layers and home recording instrumentation is fantastic, as is the vocal melody and reverberation which isn't too full or vague, its just there because it is. Shes not covering amateurish mistakes, shes beyond that, it's more of a clean sound and mature sound than 2011's Tragedy. This track has many variations and the vocals really stand out. The synthesizer playing is above my expectations and the breakdown towards the fast, hard hitting drum beat section splits me in half. The vocal delay and layers are magnificent.

'Our Sorrows' feels like a time machine. The instrumentation is incredibly good with the right amount of effects applied. The drumming is clean and is at the right tempo for Julia to sing her heart out with loud vocals and layers among the atmospherical crowd chants. It's poppy and ambient at the same time. It's very surreal and has a dream pop edge over her other material. It's a mix between the synthesizer drones and vocal noises. Her music changes within tracks. I can feel happy moods turn to sad within moments of synthesizer riffs and vocal melodies. The structure is different, much different.

This album is above all intelligent, it makes you think. I hear the twinkling synthesizers on 'In The Same Room', then hear the drum machine beat. It's like a 70's funeral with Julia singing centre stage. The lyrics are magnetic and reveal an outstanding track of contextual imagery, "I can’t recall this face, but I want you, but I want you." The track mellows and becomes an ambient piece with Brian Eno-esque synthesizers and Kate Bush like vocals. The hauntingly beautiful 'Boy In The Moon' is incredibly profound. The vocals are heavy, so is the synthesizer drones. It reminds me of Braids and Cocteau Twins mixed together creating this lovely 'space ambient' world. Her choir like layered vocals come into play and the track turns loud, then bass heavy, before zoning out for the last three minutes of symphonic ambient material. 

When you listen in depth to Julia Holter, you discover this fascinating world where she's the protagonist and the instruments are the supporting characters. I adore the rhythm 'Für Felix' has. Energy and passion is released listening to this track. Her vocal is very clear and is specifically powerful. This track is uplifting and has ethereal instrumentation and hard hitting electronic bass giving the track a soundtrack feel. Julia Holter has a long career ahead of her, recording delusional studio albums and composing obscure soundtracks to cult films.

I'm so glad she managed to pull of 'Goddess Eyes II'. It takes something special to re-hash a song in an extended format. The synthesizer drones and completely different instrumental play nicely for the Euripides lyrics "I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry." The melody is pleasing and Holter knows 'Goddess Eyes' was her album defining track on Tragedy, she's only extended it for a second format. I hear a harpsichord and I can hear hand clapping. Its different and possibly the greatest addition is the clear piano which strikes with power. 'Moni Mon Amie' has very clear vocals and brilliant instrumentation. It stands out as one of the better instrumentation tracks on the album because of the lovely, chirpy ambiance and the vague drumming towards the end. It has vocal layers and screams which create a blend of happy melodies and dark bass notations.

'Four Gardens' is a far brighter and happier track. It reminds me of Kate Bush with ethereal features and jungle like instrumentation. The vocals are extremely clear and the lyrics are both repetitive and imaginative at the same time. She repeats phrases with great fury as the beat raises and the synths enter. I never see this album as an electronic album, even though many of the features are purely electronic. By far the most electronic id the following track 'Goddess Eyes I', which has made itself onto Ekstasis somehow. It's far clearer and louder than the previous version on Tragedy. Her vocals have slightly improved with the clearness and passionate textures, but overall this track is pretty much irrelevant compared to the other tracks on Ekstasis. I have to mark the album down just for the inclusion of this track, because it doesn't improve thoroughly or feature a different instrumentation like Goddess Eyes II has. 

The album ends with the nine minute 'This Is Ekstasis'. It has a recognisable sax towards the end of the track with increased bass and spectacular drumming. The synthesizer plays its part here pulling the right sides speaker as the wind instruments make there way to the left speaker. This track is a cool down and has superb laid back instrumentation. The little sax solo is 'avant-garde' to an extent, then the vocal layers return with a very deep upright bass notation. Choir vocals continue with the stringed instruments creating a delicate atmosphere with an alternative drum section which lasts for 30 seconds before the track returns to it's ambient form. A small kick occurs and the drumming continues with raised vocals which ends the track. 

Her sound has improved since Tragedy. The instrumentation is more thorough and present, with a deep connection with synthesizers and orchestral instruments. Her reverberated vocal is used to add ethereal features and create a dense atmosphere of horror and love. Goddess Eyes has been manipulated twice on this album, but this track is not the focus. I focus on the atmosphere and the opening three tracks. Calling Julia Holter a genius is idiotic, shes just beginning to improve and find a middle ground with her diverse audience. She knows how to sing and how to compose, that goes a long way in musical output. Ekstasis is up there for album of the year in my honest opinion.
~Eddie

8.7

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