JU­LIA HOLTER

UNCUT - - New Al­bums -

Aviary dOmInO 8/10 Caw blimey: LA ex­per­i­men­tal­ist’s vast bub­ble of bab­ble. By Jim Wirth

DIS­IN­CLINED to keep it sim­ple, Ju­lia Holter de­scribed her be­lated fol­low-up to the lu­mi­nous Have You In My Wilder­ness as a re­flec­tion of “the ca­coph­ony of the mind in a melt­ing world”. A quixotic at­tempt to ex­press the chaos of in­ner and outer worlds through me­dieval har­mon­is­ing, wob­bly jazz and new age elec­tron­ics, Aviary is a size­able leap away from the pre­cisely turned curves and gnomic pre­ci­sion of her 2015 break­through. Key ad­jec­tives: gi­gan­tic, over­whelm­ing, ex­haust­ing.

Hav­ing edged from the ex­per­i­men­tal fringes to­wards frosty art rock with two clas­si­cally themed solo records – 2011’s Tragedy (in­spired by Euripi­des’ Hip­poly­tus) and 2012’s Ek­sta­sis – Holter con­vened an en­sem­ble to flesh out 2013’s Loud City Song, an al­bum in­formed by Co­lette’s 1944 novella Gigi, and the Lerner and Loewe mu­si­cal it in­spired. Un­bur­dened by any such con­cept, Have You In My Wilder­ness of­fered a se­ries of spec­tac­u­lar mu­si­cal minia­tures, bril­liantly de­tailed, supremely con­trolled. “It doesn’t mean I’m go­ing to make mu­sic that sounds like that again,” Holter warned one in­ter­viewer.

With Aviary – the Cocteau Twins remixed by Pi­eter Brueghel – she has hon­oured that vague prom­ise. An un­wieldy 90-minute gas gi­ant sprawl­ing across two CDs, it emerged from a se­ries of 2017 solo im­pro­vi­sa­tions, and be­came wilder still in the stu­dio. Opener “Turn The Light On” is typ­i­cally daunt­ing, Holter wail­ing ec­stat­i­cally over what sounds like the Sun Ra Arkestra tun­ing up at Pink Floyd’s great gig in the sky. It is un­fet­tered, cathar­tic, mag­nif­i­cent. It also goes on a bit. Aviary in mi­cro­cosm.

Holter’s vi­sion of a world over­loaded with com­pet­ing voices was partly in­spired by a line in a 2009 short story by Le­bane­seAmer­i­can writer Etel Ad­nan: “I found my­self in an aviary full of shriek­ing birds.” Amid Holter’s squawk­ing hub­bub, in­di­vid­ual threads are hard to dis­cern, the 33-year-old’s lyrics a dizzy­ing mix of found words (me­dieval trou­ba­dour songs, lines from Sap­pho) and rap­tur­ous bab­ble. The fear of a sun-boiled planet haunts the Stere­o­lab death march of “Whether” while anx­i­eties about the bubonic plague virus re-emerg­ing from melted po­lar cap ice feed into the witchy “Les Jeux To You”, but Aviary rarely seems so solidly rooted in the world of worms. In­stead, there is a feel­ing of quasi-religious hys­te­ria, some great rev­e­la­tion for­ever on the tip of Holter’s tongue. She tells Un­cut the tim­bre of Alice Coltrane’s solo works was a benchmark for Aviary, that ashram-raised free-jazz mood co­ex­ist­ing har­mo­niously with the kind of space-whis­pered spook po­etry sprin­kled over the tea-cosy hat­ted early 1970s Gong al­bums on “Chaitius”, the tur­bu­lent “Voce Simul” and “An­other Dream”.

There are jar­ring mo­ments – the open­ing ex­panses of the glow­er­ing “Ev­ery­day Is An Emer­gency” echo the in­ter­minable honk­ing of a trop­i­cal traf­fic jam – but Holter’s quest to chan­nel the clat­ter of the uni­verse pro­duces tran­scen­dent beauty too. “I Shall Love 2” stum­bles on a mu­si­cal sig­na­ture from John Cale’s “Ship Of Fools”, and bum­bles on into wave af­ter glo­ri­ous wave of crescen­does. The more earthy “Un­der­neath The Moon”, mean­while, comes on like Prince’s “Sign O’ The Times” (Holter “test­ing my moves out in the big room”) be­fore mor­ph­ing into a Robert Wy­att-ish reimag­in­ing of Kate Bush’s Ae­rial. “Who made this mappa?” Holter asks of the cos­mos as the rhythm threat­ens to carry her away. “I see no be­gin­ning, no mid­dle, no end.”

As that might sug­gest, Aviary’s land­scape re­mains in con­stant flux, solid sur­faces giv­ing way to liq­uid ones, like the drowned world of “Col­ligere” and the gaunt “In Gar­dens, Mute­ness”, where Holter’s lyrics hint once more at a thou­sand unan­swer­able ques­tions. “I stay up ’til three,” she keens, ad­dress­ing some­thing pri­mal. “It’s a long, long time to waste ask­ing you ques­tions while you sleep.”

Straight an­swers are elu­sive be­yond the ob­vi­ous ones: the world is big and strange, ex­is­tence much the same, and as to the pur­pose of it all, the only con­clu­sion Aviary can of­fer is an enig­matic el­lip­sis. A pho­netic trans­la­tion of a mourn­ful song by Bud­dhist nun Choy­ing Drolma, Holter’s can­dlelit fi­nale “Why Sad Song” is solemn, sonorous and ar­rest­ing, but spook­ily neb­u­lous. Do lines like “send all the oranges or yams they are yours to eat” make any sense? More saliently, does it mat­ter if they don’t?

Aviary is not a quest for mean­ing, but a messy at­tempt to live with the re­al­ity of chaos. It’s con­fused, with a vague feel­ing of over­due home­work, but en­light­en­ing too. In an age of war­ring cer­tain­ties, Holter’s mes­sage may be that the most pow­er­ful words left to us are, “I don’t know.”

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