Artist: Julia Holter
Album Title: Loud City Song
Released: August 20th, 2013
Contrary to the title, Julia Holter’s Loud City Song is refreshingly sparse and subtle. Her first album produced in a professional studio after two home-recorded full-lengths, Loud City Song immerses the listener in a world of dimly lit streets and lonely nighttime locales. “World” opens the album with a striking use of negative space: Holter’s quiet, breathy voice stands alone, a minimal orchestral accompaniment periodically swelling and fading like the rise and fall of ocean tides, frequently giving way to brief stretches of sheer silence. The songs that follow vary between woozy art-pop and hushed ballads. “In the Green Wild” embodies the former, showcasing Holter’s background in composition with its non-traditional structure, not so much progressing linearly as slowly unfolding, beginning with half-whispered vocals and jazzy string bass and gradually segueing into a dizzy end section where Holter’s multi-tracked voice swirls with a whispy melange of strings, evoking the mysterious woods suggested in the title.
Julia Holter’s work is overtly highbrow: her first two albums referenced Greek tragedy, and Loud City Song continues the literary thread, taking inspiration from Collette’s 1944 novella Gigi. This lofty point of reference informs the arc of the album, which takes on a somewhat theatrical feel. The plot, if there is one, is not readily discernable, but the overall progression of the album is, beginning with a feeling of introverted discomfort and ending with a newfound acceptance on “City Appearing,” where Holter sings, “All the birds of the world make their way over/ with a new, softer song to sing,” an about face from the self-conscious paranoia of the dizzy, dreamlike “Maxim’s I.”
Loud City Song adeptly bridges the gap between art and pop. The album is immaculately crafted, with Holter showing admirable skill in weaving her voice seamlessly through her deft instrumental arrangements. Yet her songs are also immediately inviting. Although the true rewards of Holter’s songwriting reveal themselves gradually over repeated listenings, her songs don’t bristle or intimidate the listener, but rather entice him or her into poring over their nuances. Loud City Song is one of the few pop albums that rewards full, devoted concentration; a quiet, thoughtful album for quiet people.
Reviewed by John McAlmon