Julia Holter: Aviary Album Review

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By Wally Perez
Music Journalist

Artist: Julia Holter
Album: Aviary
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2018

Listeners beware, singer-songwriter Julia Holter’s latest album is not for the impatient. That being said, the follow-up to her critically acclaimed 2015 album, Have You in My Wilderness, seems to have maintained her credibility as not only an artist, but a force to be reckoned with.

Released Oct. 2018 on Domino Recording Company, Holter’s fifth studio album Aviary is an experimental pop album lined with somber and dreamy tones. It not only touches the boundaries of the ethereal plane, it bursts through it and pierces right into its heart.

As the disclaimer suggests, Aviary is an experience and not necessarily an easy one. Its epic runtime is a minute short of an hour and-a-half and might take a few listens to get through it, let alone fully comprehend it. Holter’s work creates a haunting, esoteric soundscape of emotion. Accompanied by a wide range of instruments like horns, strings, piano and synths, Aviary is a rollercoaster.

Instantly, the opening track “Turn the Light On smacks you with a wall of frantic harp strums, erratic percussion, crashing cymbals and scattered horns. The instrumentation is somewhat reminiscent of a handful of Animal Collective tracks (pre-Merriweather Post Pavilion). Holter’s vocals and delivery ranges from the likes of Natasha Khan (professionally known as Bat For Lashes) and Björk. Her soft-spoken vocals are downright soothing with an ability to lull you into a euphoric state of relaxation.

The album is so massive that it’s easier to talk about songs that seem out of place on an ambitious album like this. With tracks ranging for six-to eight-minute run times, I found myself waiting for the climax to some songs and was left disappointed when they occurred in the last 10 seconds or so. Not all tracks seem cohesive or have a seem to fit amongst the spacey tone of Aviary, but that doesn’t take away from the overall sound, because well, this is a wild album.

Take the second track “Whether” for example. It’s an upbeat tune with repetitive synths and moving drums, but in the grand scheme of things, it’s a relatively upbeat song in a sea of tranquility. Further down the track list comes “Les Jeux to You,” a catchy tune, with a poppy and bouncy chorus. But again, it breaks the peaceful tones created prior and seems like a puzzle piece being forced to fit. It’s something I would expect on an Of Montreal album.

Nitpicking aside, it’s hard to take away from the overall talent Holter displays as an artist. There are plenty of tracks that shine like the haunting “Voce Simul.” It seems simple with a hypnotizing, incantational chorus — “voce simul consona obviosa obliviosa deliriosa” — but it’s the affectation in which Holter’s soft-spoken voice spills the phrase that almost entraps you under some sort of spell. The layers of crashing cymbals and synths add onto the formulaic composition and elevate something simple into something wholly encompassing.

The abrupt “Everyday Is an Emergency” immediately follows and you’re thrown into pure chaos for the first half of the almost 8-minute song. Reed instruments and (I’m pretty sure) bagpipes abruptly change the tone from the previous track and you’re left wondering what the hell you’re listening to. It’s spastic in the best way possible as the track feels like, well, an emergency. After the madness subsides, Holter once again enters the song — this time accompanied by piano — with her delicate voice and in a way, you’re rewarded for your patience. It slowly escalates again as Holter almost whispers, “Heaven in the human, in the arches, in the weather, in the table, in the somber, in the clanging, in the kingdom.”

Aviary can, at times, seem like a chore to get through. The album could definitely end at the songs “Colligere” or “In Gardens’ Muteness” and it would be fine. But Holter challenges you to join her on this vivid and flat-out otherworldly adventure. It’s up to you if you’re up for it. It might not be for everyone, but if you’re willing to give it a chance, Aviary will reward you with a beautiful journey into the Holter’s mind, which, at its core, seems to be pure bliss.

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The album cover is an old photo of a young, frowning girl wearing a blue and red outfit, a red bow and her backpack. She is standing in front of a fireplace.


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