Julia Holter

Aviary

Domino

Oct 24, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share


Find It At: AMAZON

In naming Aviary, her studio follow-up to 2015's Have You in My Wilderness, Julia Holter took inspiration from a line from a 2009 short story by Lebanese-American poet and essayist Etel Adnan: "I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds." It struck Holter as a suitable analogy for the loud lives we lead in 2018, with fresh hells served up daily as each of us struggles to deal: artistically, emotionally, somehow hopefully, with an eye toward some plausible future. 

Holter's baroque textures and wildly ambitious musicianship imply this aviary's particulars: wrought-iron, ornate and Victorian, vast and overflowing with untended plant life. It housesimprisons, displaysall of us, from the most shrill and petulant to the most muted and reserved. There are crows, mediating between life and death; eagles, all thunderstorms and resurrection; flocks of starlings expand and contract, canaries bound ahead into clean-coal mines, and repulsive vultures await their next opportunity. Phylum, family, species. What's the kingdom? Who has the keys? 2018.

We enter this bustling aviary via "Turn the Light On," a blinding spotlight, a cacophony of droning instruments and crashing drums that carries its wild energy into "Whether," one of a handful of pop-leaning songs you'll receive in this intrepid hour and a half of music (yes, 90 minutes). "Pop" here implies only the presence of quickly accessible melodies: each song is still resplendent with Holter's challenging modulations and clipped, nervous vocal style. "I Shall Love 2" is another example, charming immediately with its repeating instrumental refrain and victorious chorus, answering translated couplets from Dante's Inferno ("why do you squander?/why do you hoard?") with an assured plan: "I shall love." Later, a masterpiece: "Les Jeux to You," which leads with insatiable piano-accompanied melody and explodes into lysergic Beatlemania, an archetypal Holter Hit (TM) that finds her effortlessly, almost perversely, intertwining musical idioms.

But one can never hold onto anything for too long in this particular aviary, and other songs like "Chaitius" find you grasping for somethinganything-to hold onto in the darkness, or rolled into a ball, Holter's paranoid singspeaking like a shock victim's mantra. "Everyday is an Emergency" is the flipside defense-response, a cacophonous lashing-out, an army of what sounds like dissonant vuvuzelas that mirror the blood-pressure spike of scrolling through the morning's headlines.

But 2018, ultimately, is just a number. In the printed lyrics, Holter introduces "I Shall Love 1" with a passage by the aforementioned Etel Adnan, this time expounding on "Angelus Novus," aka Walter Benjamin's Angel of History, and "the prototype of the poets (poets/philosophers, and artists) who will deal with these destitute times." While the worldoops, sorry, aviarymay appear to be on fire, it has always been so, and the everyday emergency in which we find ourselves is not the exception: it's the rule. And surrounded by all this noise, this eternal series of accidents, Holter the poet chooses to process it all and create something beautiful. She chooses to love. Because she must. (www.juliaholter.com)

Author rating: 8.5/10

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