Julia Holter - Ekstasis
Record Label: RVNG Intl.
Release Date: March 8, 2012
Julia Holter has stated in many of her interviews that she thinks of her music as pop music - not as some second coming of Laurie Anderson or an avant-classical fusion, as may be spun. That has never been more evident than on Ekstasis. Written simultaneously with the more esotericTragedy, Ekstasis is very clearly an album full of pop songs, though a much different kind of pop than many are used to.
Though she has only recently begun to garner more widespread acclaim outside the more informed circles she frequented - largely following the release of Tragedy - Holter has been crafting her unique brand of pop for years now in the LA scene; she blends simple pop traits and melodies with more experimental and unique sounds and interpretations. There aren’t many restrictions to her music; she can create a grim narrative album full of more inaccessible, haunting pieces, but can also craft songs with whimsical melodies that dance and play without anyone batting a lash at the vast difference ("Für Felix," a highlight of Ekstasis, is an exceptional example of the latter).
Focusing on Ekstasis, Holter's ability to create such disparate pieces is evident in spades. Back-to-back are “In the Same Room” and “Boy In the Moon," an excellent microcosm of this flexibility. The first shows off her ability to create one of those afore-mentioned melodies and evolve it into a true composition by interweaving it with other sounds and harmonies. It is (until the final minute) upbeat, and even fun, while it bops merrily along. Contrast this with its final minute and the entirety of “Boy In the Moon,” a slowly-building ambiance that rolls out as an enveloping fog - the difference could be somewhat remarkable on other albums, but simply comes with the territory here.
It would be remiss not to touch again upon a word I just used: composition. Every track is so carefully constructed, so wonderfully and precisely arranged. Each note has a purpose, even the tiniest of twinkles beneath the fuzz of a synthesizer; every new, subtle sound inspires a pang of bliss (see, once again, the absolutely gorgeous “Boy In the Moon," where each subtle change feels like a refreshing wave). The evolutions that opener “Marienbad” undergoes, for example, are marvelous: it shifts from simple, measured a capella harmony into rippling tapestry of sounds and textures, then reaches a point of pulsating tension, all before melting into a lovely choral finale - all on a track of relatively median length. The exceptionally long tracks are an even better indication of her arranging talents - the slow burn of “Boy in the Moon” is nothing less than riveting throughout, and finale “This is Ekstasis” is an entirely different construction from much of Ekstasis: creepy and off-kilter, full of snazzy saxophone and shifting beats, ending the album in ekstasis - a transcendent state.
Holter’s arranging ability is on even more overt display late in the album. Tragedy and Ekstasis share a track, “Goddess Eyes:” here, cleaned up, retitled “Goddess Eyes I,” and with a vastly different placement, it becomes a much different song. In addition, though, Holter makes it a vastly different song in actuality, reimagining it as “Goddess Eyes II,” a track of tremendous grace and beauty, with much less vocoder and grimness. She completely reimagined an already loved, successul, and effective song and made it, if anything, more beautiful - rather than the cryptic avante-pop shades of before, it now carries the air of powerful ambient pop a few decades old.
As the final notes of “This Is Ekstasis” roll away, a good number of listeners will feel some form of that transcendent state. The more esoteric or more drawn-out parts of the music will understandably turn some off to Ekstasis, but the album is so well-composed and emotionally mesmerizing that those who do enjoy any sort of avant-pop will be utterly taken by Holter's arrangements. This effect is showing, as Holter's star is rising far beyond where it has ever been before. After listening to Ekstasis and reading about Holter herself, it's evident that the sudden spate of attention is much deserved.