It's All Greek
It's been a long-held cliché of countless post-rockers that they're out to make evocative scores to imaginary movies (never made), but Julia Holter seems more like she's out to soundtrack Greek tragedy. The Los Angeles-based songwriter/composer/vocalist —a peer of acts like Ariel Pink and Nite Jewel has clearly an interest in Ancient Greece.
When —after a run of underground CDRs and cassettes working with conceptual ideas and, often, field-recording themes— she made her 'debut' with her first-ever properly-pressed LP, Tragedy, Holter explored the myth of Hippolytus across a sustained suite; all eerie synths, harsh noise, incidental movements, and Holter's soft singing.
Ekstasis is clearly the follow-on work from Tragedy, and it starts with Holter tackling the Ancient Greek philosophy of Ekstasis; in which man feels removed from self via experiences increasing proximity to the divine. If this sounds heady, well, it is. There's an undoubted academic quality to the way Holter tackles deep philosophical ideas in her artworks; not falling into the simple, at-times-hamfisted 'hope-for-the-best' intuition of punk rock, but carefully approaching her ideas in sound. And Holter's structural approach shows her study in both classical and modern composition.
Yet Ekstasis is clearly Holter's most 'pop' album, a work of jaunty, synthy, sweetly-sung songs far more instant, insistent, and accessible than the longer, denser, more difficult works of its predecessor. Ekstasis riffs on Tragedy's most melodic moment twice over: "Goddess Eyes I" and "Goddess Eyes II" slinking, almost sexy synth-pop songs where Holter and a disembodied, vocodered voice duet.
Interestingly, for someone who bills themselves as a composer, the synthesizer is clearly Holter's instrument of choice. And, in many ways, she uses the familiar tools of the blogosphere's 2012 glut of home-recording, keyboard collecting noodlers: all squelchy analog sounds, layers of voice, bountiful reverb, hazy fidelity. Holter isn't a lo-fi act, but her synth sounds often have wobbly, wonky, fuzzy edges; and her fondness for tiny details and flutters of field-recording adds a density to the songs.
Yet, for all their wobbly edges, all their love of synth-pop, Holter's compositions don't sound modern (or, indeed, postmodern) but somehow ancient-sounding. Like her fellow collaborateur in the sadly-forgotten Remarkable Thing About Swans, Mali Swan, Holter is interested in both ancient philosophy and musical medievalism; the nine-minute "This Is Ekstasis," for example, touching on both in its droney repetition and minor-keys. Here, Holter employs synth-presets as veritable orchestral parts, and her voice as divine chorus; Ekstasis summoning canonical sounds as it inches towards musical godliness.
Record Label: Rvng. Intl.
Release Date: March 6, 2012