Julia Holter

Exclaim! - - REVIEWS - MATTHEW BLENKARN

Aviary

Julia Holter isn’t prone to small, easy state­ments. Baroque and elu­sive in equal mea­sure, her mu­sic teases out ob­scure de­tails and in­ef­fa­ble moods through lush or­ches­tral ar­range­ments and ex­pan­sive struc­tures. She’s a pur­pose­ful song­writer whose work de­mands pa­tience. Clock­ing in at a whop­ping 90 min­utes, and of­fer­ing up rel­a­tively few hooks be­fore the half­way mark, Aviary doesn’t make con­ces­sions to pas­sive lis­ten­ers. But those who stick with it will be treated to Holter’s most touch­ing work yet: a lyri­cal, metic­u­lously com­posed al­bum that trea­sures em­pa­thy and to­geth­er­ness amid tur­bu­lence and un­cer­tainty. The first-per­son nar­ra­tives that Holter used to great ef­fect on tracks like “World” and “How Long?” are largely ab­sent on Aviary. In­stead, she leaves lis­ten­ers to pick through im­pres­sion­is­tic frag­ments and re­con­sti­tute them into some­thing mean­ing­ful. “Les Jeux to You” sees her joy­ously toss­ing out a mish­mash of verbs, while “Words I Heard” re­futes chaos with a pure dec­la­ra­tion of love.

As ex­ul­tant as Holter’s lyrics can be, the com­po­si­tions on Aviary lift them even higher. This is her most syn­thetic al­bum since 2012’s Ek­sta­sis, but its elec­tronic flour­ishes never over­whelm the tra­di­tional in­stru­ments. Syn­the­siz­ers bob steadily over a bed of strings on “Whether,” bur­ble like a creek on “An­other Dream,” and ring out notes like bells on “Col­ligere.” Ev­ery­thing feels co­he­sive, even as Holter chan­nels ev­ery­thing from a som­bre lament on “In Gar­dens’ Mute­ness” to a cel­e­bra­tory chant on “I Shall Love 1.” Sweep­ing and in­ti­mate, Aviary never set­tles for com­fort­ing plat­i­tudes or dour res­ig­na­tion. It’s hon­est, hope­ful and surely among Holter’s finest achieve­ments. (Domino)

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