New band of the day: Julia Holter (No 1,228)

Sepulchral? Liturgical? Decorative and droning? Someone's been listening to old 4AD albums, haven't they?

Hometown: Los Angeles.

The lineup: Julia Holter (vocals, music).

The background: On the face of it, the classically trained Julia Holter would seem to be operating at the opposite, arcane extreme to yesterday's perky Japanese Britpop revivalists. And yet, oddly, there are several occasions when the monastic chanting and decorative drones on her album Ekstasis drift towards pop. It's at times like these when you could imagine Ekstasis drawing a wider audience than perhaps even Holter anticipated for an album inspired by medieval manuscripts, featuring ghostly, wafting vocals and accompanied by music apparently designed to be experienced in church.

Yes, her previous album, Tragedy, included a song called Try to Make Yourself a Work of Art. And yes, this music attracts the kind of acclaim that has led her press release writer toclaim it "stems from a mythological reverence of that which is incomprehensibly beautiful" and one critic to wonder whether they might need an ethnomusicologist to help them negotiate their way through it. But it is actually as accessible as it is challenging, and anyone who has been exposed to the esoteric adventures of artists such as Laurie Anderson and Arthur Russell will not recoil when they hear Ekstasis.

Ekstasis? The music is ethereal, even ecclesiastical, as we've said about a lot of the chillwave, witch house and deconstructed R&B people of late. Even the title sounds liturgical, albeit from a church where religious devotion acquires a sensual urgency. It's indie, but indie as it was in the hallowed late 80s. It reminds us of that period before Britpop and grunge, when Melody Maker was a shrine to 4AD and the alternative scene was feminine and fragrant, not boorish and loud. There is a choral complexity to the vocal arrangements, but there is an immediacy to many of the melodies. It floats (it's very floaty) between folk, new age, ambient, electronic dance and goth-lite, but more often than not it detours back, as we say, to pop, as though it can't help itself. The track Our Sorrows recalls the Cornshed Sisters only with experimental textures and the sort of spectral FX that make Holter a spiritual sibling of Grimes, Nite Jewel and Sleep-Over/Boy Friend. Nothing like the Cornshed Sisters, then.

This is where sonic cathedral meets dolorous discotheque. Boy in the Moon veers off into abstract territories, beauty with a dash of creepy, waves of wispiness filling the mix like aural fog. Für Felix is hymnal and childlike in its repetitive circularity. Moni Mon Amie is solemn in its sibilant softness, almost sepulchral although nothing like Sepultura. It can get a bit prim: Goddess Eyes II reminds us of Enya, and we rarely want to be reminded of Enya. And is it us, or when you listen to Four Gardens does it not make you conjure up a vision of Holter, our lady of sorrows, gambolling gaily in a meadow like a grown-up version of the girl in pigtails in the opening credits of Little House on the Prairie? No? Just us, then.

The buzz: "Ekstasis is one of the most unusual and unprecedented indie pop albums to come along in quite awhile" – Popmatters.

The truth: Ekstasis is less elliptical than it is easily enjoyable.

Most likely to: Appeal to fans of Hosanna in Excelsis.

Least likely to: Appeal to fans of Oasis.

What to buy: Ekstasis is out now on RVNG INTL.

File next to: Nite Jewel, Grimes, Cocteau Twins, Shelleyan Orphan.


Thursday's new band: The Cold One Hundred.


Paul Lester

The GuardianTramp

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