Upon first hearing 2015’s critically adored ‘Have You in My Wilderness’, it felt as though some of Julia Holter’s sharp edges had been smoothed down. It felt strange in places, still identifiably Holter, but stranger still was the impression that something like ‘Feel You’ could sit happily on a Radio 2 playlist. Three years on, the artist returns with ‘Aviary’, an album grander in scope, bolder in execution, and replete with jagged edges.
What is perhaps most remarkable about the record is Holter’s mastery of volume and tempo. The pendulum races from measured reverence to unchartered cacophony and back again, and somehow it all holds; like all of Holter’s albums, ‘Aviary’ is an open-world adventure unto itself, with all the noise and romance and despair that a whole world contains. ‘Colligere’ recalls the ambient outliers that punctuated 2013’s ‘Loud City Song’, while ‘Les Jeux to You’ is a wild ride through eighties pop tropes. Somehow it’s all here, a tiny, swirling galaxy enveloped in sound.
The tragedy is that we must live in the world we’re given, of course, but there’s joy in that awareness too. “Maybe it’s a matter of listening to and gathering the seeming madness, of forming something out of it and envisioning a future,” Holter says in the press notes, and it’s that optimism in the face of a melting world that permeates the record. “Send up now,” she sings towards the end, almost an hour and a half later, “push us up above all the world.”
Works of art like these elevate us beyond the material world, if only for an afternoon, and for that Holter remains worth her weight in gold.
Words: Matthew Neale
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