Julia Holter: Aviary review – sonic beauty and brains in a 90-minute epic

(Domino)

To say that Julia Holter’s fifth album is dense and difficult is an understatement – in an ideal world, Aviary would come with its own dedicated edition of York Notes. Laden with literary references, Latin text and lyrics that strain under the weight of impressionistic meaning, it’s a record that is difficult to parse but easy to admire. On her previous album, 2015’s Have You In My Wilderness, Holter proved she could squish her avant-garde sensibilities into soaring pop songs. This time, the Los Angeles-based musician has loosened the reins, creating a collection of tracks that are rich, expansive and only occasionally maddeningly obtuse.

Holter has said that it was her intention to use Aviary to meditate on the current chaos of the world, something that’s clear from the off – opener Turn the Light On resembles The Scream in musical form. Over the crash and screech of a malfunctioning orchestra, Holter wails flatly, her voice alternating between a foghorn bellow and a sheep-like vibrato. There is a track called Everyday Is an Emergency, which begins with amusingly dissonant bagpipes that morph into the sound of an alarm, and numerous allusions to war – both ancient and contemporary. Despite its concern with modern malaise, Aviary sonically harks back to the medieval via chants, references to Occitan troubadour songs and brass fanfares – but it’s also in possession of a more romantic kind of nostalgia, thanks to a heavenly string section that cushions the more abrasive sounds.

The majority of Aviary is designed to be mused on mindfully, but there are a handful of more immediate moments. The spellbindingly brilliant I Shall Love 2 builds gradually into a chamber-pop ballad, whose droning quality and sense of childlike disarray recalls the Velvet Underground. Whether is a jaunty piece of electrified post-punk, while Les Jeux to You features jolly staccato singing in broken English that resembles odd Euro-pop from the 1970s. Holter doesn’t drop quite enough of these joyful crumbs to cajole the listener through the entirety of this 90-minute epic – yet there remains a glut of beauty and braininess in store for those willing to stick around.

Contributor

Rachel Aroesti

The GuardianTramp

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