sun 07/08/2022

CD: Julia Holter - Loud City Song | reviews, news & interviews

CD: Julia Holter - Loud City Song

CD: Julia Holter - Loud City Song

High-tech torch songs from LA auteur chanteuse

Psychedically alien?

This is an incredibly hard album to work out. One major clue comes, though, with its second track, “Maxim's 1”, the backing for which is a dead ringer for a lost track from Cocteau Twins's 1990 Heaven or Las Vegas album. Not that any of the rest of the album sounds like Cocteau Twins, but it does hit a very similar magic formula.

That is, though it ostensibly comes from an “indie” milieu, it has vast sonic ambition closer to the biggest pop/soul/R&B records of its time than to any guitar-wrangling mitherers, but it is also psychedelically alien to the point of indecipherability.

Los Angeleno Julia Holter's first two albums were home-recorded entirely solo, and frequently showed it, but were also clearly ambitious in their scope. This record is the one on which all that ambition is realised – every single crackle, breath, touch of tongue against lip, scrape of finger or bow against string is glistening with almost impossible detail, yet is also a part of the composition. This is not about fidelity of recording, though – every acoustic sound is made to sound deeply weird, making you unsure whether it is processed or not.

Brian Wilson, Nina Simone, David Lynch, Aaliyah, Carole King, all drift past in a high-tech dream – and the lyrics make you never sure whether you're listening to Dada cut-up or overheard street conversation, Greek tragedy or kitchen sink drama. That is the pleasure and difficulty of this record: every time you put your finger on something it away like smoke or silk, leaving you unsure what you were looking for in the first place. This makes it deeply frustrating, occasionally even boring – but any set that can contain a torch song like “Hello Stranger” is already winning, and even with the frustrations, you will find you want to come back to this again and again even knowing you won't get much more sense out of it than the last time.

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