Tag Archive: Julia Holter
While Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith isn’t a familiar name she has been playing music from a young age, at 13 she was writing rock anthems using crude sampling techniques. Three years later she was paired with a mentor who was a film composer he taught to use Pro Tools and Kurzweil samplers her first real introduction to music technology, she has said of that period “My mind was blown by just how many textures you could get and how much control you could have”. However next move was to attend the prestigious Berklee Music College to study classical guitar and piano, while there she formed folk duo Ever Isles. After graduation she moved back to her childhood home of the Isle of Orcas were a neighbour lent her a Buchla modular synthesiser for a year. Initially she just used it to process her voice and guitar continuing to compose in the same way. Once she started to use as in the sales many other features she found a way to create the orchestral music she’d always wanted to compose. “EARS” (her second album after 2015’s Euclid” and many collaborative efforts) finds Aurelia Smith combining all her many experiences and styles into a cohesive and organic whole.
The album’s opening track ‘First flight’ begins with a bubbling synth arpeggios that fade in and are quickly joined by slow-moving thin synth chords. Then a short sharp riff joins in, things continue like this with the riff dropping in and out. There a saxophone rifff and third synth melody introduces themselves out of nowhere before everything drops away to heavily vocoded vocals with a synth melody and chords following them. Shortly afterwards we return to the previous synth heavy section, again that melody comes out of nowhere and gives way to the vocals. The song then stops abruptly giving way to the thin organic sounding synth chords and reverberant electronic percussion of ‘Wetlands’. The track has a relaxed atmosphere and more space than in the opening track. When he first section dies away there’s some borderline cheesy vocoder though it’s one that works organically within the mix like Boards of Canada or Black Moth Super Rainbow. These two references don’t seem to pop up a lot when Aurelia Smith’s music is discussed cheese compared to a lot of female synthesists such as Laurie Spiegel and Susan Ciani , these comparisons are without merit they are somewhat limited to one aspect of the music and the person making it. The album also regularly reminds me of the brilliant ‘Choral’ album by Mountains near the great marriage of the synthetic and the organic.
Next up is ‘Envelop’ which begins with a slowly ascending synth melody and thin wispy synth chords open this track. A second counter melody weaves its way through the track giving it a sad feel where before it been contemplative but neutral. The track shifts into a new section of the see-sawing synth melody and a flute-like counter melody playing call and response parts in the form of short riffs that help the track gain momentum again. Smith again enters with her vocals that this time they are more natural sounding there may be some vocoder but it’s very subtle if there is. The similar ‘When I Try I’m Full’ features a slowly ascending synth chord that rises before quickly turning into a chord progression that hangs in the air. The chords drop away and a light muted synth arpeggio plays, it’s joined soon after by a more digital almost video game-like arpeggio. Smith sings some light vocal harmonies and almost nursery rhyme like melody across the top of the synths. The third track with an ascending opening ‘Rare Things Grow’ is up next, the long held synth notes ascend over the top of drip drops of electronic percussion, at first the percussion is sparse before coalescing into a loop. A saxophone solos over the top all of this before the track breaks down with the sax and Smith performing a call and response. Then the bass drum and sax player alone before a new synth arpeggio and Smith’s vocals emerge.
Closer ‘Existence in the Unfurling’ combines a bubbling synth arpeggio and bulbous pulsing synth bassline to back Smith’s vocoded vocals. Woodwind synths cut in and out of the mix. The track is relatively fast when compared to the other tracks on the album and has an urgent feel. Things breakdown around four minutes in with pulsing mesmeric pads the only thing left in the mix, now feels as if watching blazing sun go down from a car or high-speed train. Then the section changes again with what sounds like a xylophone playing a simple rhythmic riff before being overcome by bold digital synth riff and a swarming high pitched flute-like arpeggio. These elements fall away around eight minute mark and the track is led by buzzing pad, high synth arpeggio and phat digital bass riff. The flute sound returns to the mix for the final push to the end of the track.
All in all I found “EARS” to be a beguiling bucolic album that more than lives up to the many names she is frequently compared to e.g. Laurie Spiegel, Susanne Ciani (with whom Smith will be releasing a collaborative album with in the future) and Julia Holter. Much music made on modular synthesisers in contemporary music is associated with nerdy white men making music that since more interested in the process this creation than the result. There is no such problem with “EARS” which is lively and demands repeat listening, highly recommended.
Julia Holter returns with “Loud City Song” her third album in three years and the first to record in a studio instead of her bedroom studio. It is immediately evident that this album is both similar and different to those that preceded it. The album is again themed but this time instead of an Ancient Greek theme were transported to 1940’s Paris and the film/novel ‘Gigi’ and Holter’s home of Los Angeles the inspiration for the album. Holter also continues to play with both avant garde and pop music though whereas her previous albums felt grounded and homemade “Loud City Song” brings in elements of jazz and soundtrack music that make for more upbeat and sweeping arrangements.
‘Maxim’s I’ is a great example of the leap that Holter’s made on this superb album. It begins with quiet hi-hats & cymbals play in the distance overlapping each other. The tension rises with strings and heavy piano and a synth pad enter for the beginning of the song proper. A full drum kit plays beneath all of this and Holter’s sparse lead vocal. Then there’s a breakdown to piano and violin around 2 minutes 30 seconds in before a new drum beat and Holter enter creating something that sounds like a more muted version of Serge Gainsbourg’s “Histoire De Melody Nelson”. The first section and beat returns around 4 minutes in and is later joined by what sounds like a new thicker pad sound. Next up is ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ the most effective use of field recordings in one of her songs to date. The field recording of “the brisk footfall of her fellow passersby evokes claustrophobia, danger and paranoia (is she being chased? Or is it all in her head?)”, it sets the tone for the nervous and menacing song that follows perfectly.
‘Maxim’s II’ opens sharply with Holter’s lone vocal and surges of strings. Horns join in honking before a vibraphone enters followed by pounding drums and bass guitar. Everything breaks down around two minutes in with Holter sing over just a field recording. Then huge honking horns and orchestral percussion crash in and push the joyous track along. Around 4 minutes and 30 seconds in the beat breaks down into something more strict and industrial, globs of metallic guitar, thick synth drone and squawking sax make the tracks chaotic climax. Album closer ‘City Appearing’ is an example of something else Holter manages to deliver across the whole of the album which is expert use of dynamics and texture. It begins with just Holter’s naked voice and stark piano chords. Around 1 minute 30 seconds in a wet, subtle synth pad enters glistening and slow moving. A drum beat coated in reverb enters around 2 minutes 40 seconds in. Then 3 minutes 24 seconds in a double bass line enters giving the track new purpose. Around 5 minutes in the synth pad rises to a level that causes the track to feel both tense and swirly which is emphasised by the acoustic drums that shift about below the surface.
With “Loud City Song” Holter may have delivered her best and most fascinating album to, she has managed to make a record that is hugely ambitious and hugely satisfying for the listener. Holter has truly mastered using space, dynamics, texture and improvisation alongside melody, harmony and composing. She is able to paint pictures and evoke emotion with both field recordings and musical elements and effortless blend or move between the two. It is difficult to define, is she an experimental artist or a pop artist or both? Whatever she is it’s a joy to listen to and experience.
Blondes – “Swisher” (RVNG INTL)
The duo of Sam Haar and Zach Steinman was last heard demonstrating this transcendent practice – one favoring analog serenity to digital flare – on the duo’s 2012 self-titled debut album. Tracks were titled with conceptual dualisms, released on opposing 12” sides prior to album compilation and gleaned house and techno rudiments with spiritually escapist split ends.
Around the release of Blondes, Haar and Steinman advocated the humanistic side of dance culture, mentioning the meditative potential of electronic music as channeled through their interest in the physicality of music making, such as hardware instrumentation and improvisation. At the same time, Blondes’ live performances steadily flared up in various types of venues, mostly outside of the DIY spaces the duo got their start: the traditional club, the art museum, the open air festival, and some of the best sound systems throughout Europe.
The evolution of sound systems on which Blondes played created a curve along which Haar and Steinman built a universally impactful sonic experience. After rehauling their gear and settling into a new studio space, Blondes’ busy year ended in an intensely focused production period during which Haar and Steinman sculpted the boldly detailed Swisher.
Moderat – “Moderat II” (Monkeytown/Mute)
Back in 2009 Apparat and Modeselektor teamed up for what seemed like a one off album release. However, they’ve announced a new album the Moderat side project. Combining Apparat’s emotive soundscapes and Modeselektor’s twisted hard hitting club beats, this album promises to dominate underground dance in 2013. You can see the art and track listing for “Moderat II” here.
The Bug – “Filthy” EP (Ninja Tune)
The Bug is back in full effect with the “Filthy” EP, and has hooked up with the inimitable Danny Brown and his King Midas Sound cohort Kiki Hitomi for the ferocious “Freakshow”. It promises to be a great taster ahead of the long awaited “Angels and Demons” album.
Free the Robots – “The Balance” (self-released)
Shortly after the release of his excellent In Other Worlds EP, Free The Robots is on to his full-length, The Balance. Santa Ana’s Chris Alfaro plans on dropping the album on his own accord. With features from just Jessie Jones and Jonwayne, this album is sure to be yet another expansive and exploratory instrumental adventure.
Julia Holter – “Loud City Song” (Domino)
Loud City Song is Holter’s first studio album proper, and it both continues and furthers the singular vision of its predecessors, 2011’s debut Tragedy and last year’s Ekstasis, as she experiments with intricate arrangements of words and pop melodies to build both an individual collection of songs as well as one unified story–a “song” of songs.