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“DD Review: Julia Holter – Loud City Song.”

It’s very ironic, or should I say unexpected, that “discourse” is an operative word in the canny discussion of this new Julia Holter album. Discourse, which has many definitions but, in summation, means an exchange of ideas or capacity for thought, in music, vaguely implies lack of genre.
Now, if you’re from the Gang of Four camp, who, appropriately enough, are huge in LA, from what I understand, you’re saying, Gung ho! Yeah, man! Rolling Stones suck! Down with the major chord (I actually did spot ONE major chord on City Song, in the brief track 07 lullaby “He’s Running Through My Eyes”). But for Holter, her best song to date, before this new release, was “Fur Felix,” and most of the rightly acclaimed Ekstasis has chordal formats that play nice with our preexisting conceptions of pop music. All this is to say that Loud City Song is very unfamiliar.
It’s funny, though, all the while, this past year, around this December 21, 2012 thing, I was wondering how it would affect avant-garde musical statements. Holter here sounds like a woman supremely fed up with humanity, mouthing cat calls like “How can I escape you?”, and indulging paeans to “the green wild.” Her album title seeths with satire. Truly, at very few times on this album do I get the sense that she is even attempting to create good music — at least, good in the sense in which we think of it. Or, if you will, good like “Fur Felix” was. Which makes the fact that the album comes out as about an 8 out of 10, I’d say, though I’m not into giving scores or ratings, pretty impressive.
So, along these lines, let’s start from the top. Falsetto is not Holter’s strength. “World,” though, the opener, starts with just this, the singer belting out paralyzed, bitter blips that sound directed toward the mice in her apartment, and as if her opinion of these mice is higher than that of people. “Maxim’s I” is a completely inconsequential and unapproachable bit of obtuse, baroque stagnancy. “Horns Surrounding Me” sort of synthesizes into some cohesive vigor, but the transition into the following “In the Green Wild,” sadly, is foreign and aborted. Stylistically, too, it’s untoward, with identity-crisis hand claps souring the scene. “Into the Green Wild” is charming in parts, but frustrating in its inability to cohere into an enjoyable artistic statement, pleasant or adverse, anyhow. “Hello Stranger” blends innocuously and passably enough into its surrounding brethren, while “Maxim’s II,” though in no way resembling “Maxim’s I,” emerges as the best song yet. Generally, City Song feels like an opera, and, though “Maxim’s II” certainly wouldn’t work as a single, whereas if anything “Horns Surrounding Me” might, it calls to mind “Men of Good Fortune” from Lou Reed’s Berlin, with its steep ebbs and flows. These closely juxtaposed turns of intensity, volume and amiability justify deeming this the “loud city song,” and it’s certainly the centerpiece, bordered by two droller, more wallflower-like respites.
And make no mistake, Holter COULD have made “Maxim’s II” into something single-worthy, she just clearly was antipathetic to the idea, a fact evidenced by the deep, glaring pauses, which are actually the only sore thumbs on the song’s single resume, given a little stylistic lee-way. Finale “City Appearing” ends up playing like a very pleasing closing argument — the urban post-apocalyptic elements of fear, chaos and attrition still loom large, but Holter actually sounds like she’s having fun again, aware and proud of the statement she’s making, crooning at her piano, every bit immersed in the incoherent, bitter malaise that’s rightfully hers.

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