Or­ches­tral/art pop

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Music Reviews - Doug Wallen

Aviary Ju­lia Holter Domino It has been three years since Ju­lia Holter’s last proper stu­dio al­bum, 2015’s daz­zling Have You in My Wilder­ness. The Los An­ge­les singer and multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist has branched out plenty in the mean­time, scor­ing films both live and on record and re­vis­it­ing her older songs live in the stu­dio for last year’s In the Same Room. She also has col­lab­o­rated with elec­tronic com­poser Lau­rel Halo, cult folk singer Linda Per­hacs and ex­per­i­men­tal mu­si­cians Tashi and Yoshi Wada. That bold spirit of con­nec­tiv­ity across gen­res cer­tainly in­forms Aviary, a 90-minute al­bum rife with shift­ing voices and ex­per­i­men­ta­tion — of­ten in mid-thought. While Holter’s past works usu­ally sprang from the ger­mi­nat­ing in­spi­ra­tion of some out­side text, whether it was Euripi­des, Vir­ginia Woolf or the movie Gigi, she has said the new al­bum was born from im­pro­vi­sa­tion, with more pre­cise in­spi­ra­tions only man­i­fest­ing later.

What­ever its ori­gin, Aviary is a dense and dar­ing re­ac­tion to the stately singer­song­writer vibe of Have You in My Wilder­ness, tak­ing that al­bum’s whim­si­cal or­nate­ness to op­er­atic new heights. The open­ing Turn the Light On dou­bles as a gnash­ing am­bush, evok­ing the Dirty Three with its tur­bu­lent clat­ter of drums and vi­ola while Holter sounds equally free in her singing. She doesn’t couch her free-range ap­proach from there, bor­row­ing phrases from the ro­mance lan­guage Oc­c­i­tan on Chaitius and en­twin­ing eerie bag­pipes and trum­pet for uneasy lis­ten­ing on Ev­ery­day is an Emer­gency. Em­ploy­ing a tech­nique called hock­et­ing, where singing voices in­ter­rupt each other, Les Jeux to You in­ten­tion­ally re­calls the grotesque ex­tremes of the on­line echo cham­ber.

In an­other de­cid­edly cur­rent touch for a com­poser who of­ten looks back across cen­turies past, Holter airs anx­i­eties about Don­ald Trump’s re­cent brinkman­ship with North Korea be­fore a trickle of night­mar­ish im­agery on Words I Heard: “Fre­quent mis­sile talk / Slurp­ing on the words I heard from the wretched zone.” That’s not to say there aren’t eas­ier points of en­try to be found: the twopart I Shall Love ri­vals Phil Spec­tor’s ec­static Wall of Sound, in­clud­ing a gor­geous cul­mi­na­tion in the first part where Holter channels Nico. Her voice is con­sis­tently im­pres­sive as it mood-swings from placid to ra­bid and many points be­tween.

For all the bravura lay­er­ing at work across the al­bum, how­ever, there is a sparse pi­ano bal­lad in the form of In Gar­dens’ Mute­ness and a pair of hard-earned come­downs in An­other Dream and the clos­ing Why Sad Song. Holter’s ar­range­ments ex­pand and con­tract thrillingly from song to song, and even from mo­ment to mo­ment; the elas­tic and ac­tive Un­der­neath the Moon sum­mons six back­ing play­ers, only to splin­ter into wonky dif­fu­sion by the end. As an act of sus­tained risk-tak­ing, Aviary is im­mer­sive and sprawl­ing in a way that few al­bums are en­cour­aged to be, and it will very likely take the rest of the year for even Holter’s most es­tab­lished fans to un­pack and di­gest ev­ery­thing here.

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