Julia Holter – Loud City Song

Superficiality and loneliness have never sounded so tender and dazzling.


‘World’, the first track on Julia Holter’s third record, Loud City Song, begins with just her voice, bird-like and ethereal, alone and beautiful. There’s barely any instrumentation at all. As she sings, ‘All the hats of the world/ I don’t know how I wear a hat so much/ Even when I run/ The city can’t see my eyes/ Under the brim’, it’s utterly gorgeous, understated and minimal – and sets the scene for a record which is a beautiful meditation on living in the city, the album’s title becoming almost ironic.

‘Loud City Song’ is a concept album of sorts, one that starts with the choice of whether to run out in the wild and be free of others, or to be one with the city and embrace it. It draws parallels between the title character in Colette’s 1944 novella Gigi and L.A.’s modern celebrity-soaked culture, exploring her relationship with her hometown and modern life.

Such high art ideas are nothing new for Holter - debut ‘Tragedy’ was based on the work of ancient Athenian playwright Euripides, and its sublime follow-up, ‘Ekstasis’, was influenced by Greek classicism and American poetry. Yet these influences never get in the way of her beautiful, gentle and meditative songs.

Unlike those first two albums, which were recorded mostly alone in her bedroom, Holter recorded this one with an ensemble of musicians and co-producer Cole M. Greif-Neill, though it’s rooted in demos made even before her debut. And though this is a jazzier and at times more expansive affair it retains the same hushed, minimal feel.

These songs, like those on their predecessor, are lullabies of layered vocals and wistful synths and brass, achingly poignant and full of warmingly luscious sounds. The album takes Holter’s rare gift for experimentation and merges it with her pop sensibilities.

From the sparse but heavenly opener where she asks ‘how can I escape you?’, it’s a sublime journey from the city to the country and back again. The washed out synths, gentle rolling drums and whispered vocals of ‘Maxim’s I’ see Holter stating ‘don’t find your feet / drink some blood if you want to be starting something’, and things become even more ominous on ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ as urgent brass and a pounding beat create a sense of claustrophobia.

So she heads out into the open fields with ‘In The Green Wild’ which unfurls into a beautifully lush pop number and through to the coast with ‘Hello Stranger’s’ splashes of synth, the sounds of the sea and its aching and echoing longing of lost love – “it seems like a mighty long time, my baby ooh you’re here again … I still love you so”. It’s beautifully evocative and pastoral, while ‘This Is A True Heart’ shows Holter’s ability to conjure up gorgeous pop songs from her ethereal palette.

It ends with the twinkling, dusky ‘City Appearing’ with lines touching on the loneliness and gaudy ostentation of the city. ‘Everyone has left early without a hat’, she sings and the sounds start to swirl together. It blurs the lines between Holter’s more abstract leanings and the idea of pop. Then it elegantly disappears into the night, leaving you with a unique vision, of depth and a deft touch. This is a clever, sophisticated album that still oozes warmth and affection. Superficiality and loneliness have never sounded so tender and dazzling.

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