Loud City Song is the new studio recording by Los Angeles based artist Julia Holter, set for release by Domino on August 20th 2013 (August 19th in the rest of the world). The album is Holter’s third full length release in as many years – following 2011’s groundbreaking debut Tragedy and last year’s follow-up, the critically lauded Ekstasis.
Her first studio album proper, Loud City Song is both a continuation and a furthering of the fiercely singular and focused vision displayed by its predecessors, taking as it does Holter’s rare gift for merging high concept, compositional prowess and experimentation with pop sensibility and applying it to a set of even more daringly beautiful arrangements and emotionally resonant songs.
Holter’s artistic process is a ceaseless outpouring. She often conceives, writes and records material intended for numerous records at once – recalling and remoulding various strands of ideas and inspiration as the remarkably vivid worlds and the detailed narratives her records conjure come into focus over time.
The songs that make up Loud City Song have origins that pre-date even 2011’s debut Tragedy – coaxed out and finessed as demos in Holter’s bedroom studio and then finally coalesced into one thrillingly cohesive experience in the latter stages of 2012 by Holter and co-producer Cole Marsden Grief-Neill and an ensemble of Los Angeles musicians. The result is an album of enormous ambition – taking its cues from the likes of Joni Mitchell and the poetry of Frank O’Hara but forging those inspirations into something resolutely unique.
Whilst Holter’s recordings have always been defined by the scope of their musicality – Tragedy saw her malleable, hugely touching voice accompanied by synths, drum machines, cello, saxophone, keyboards, ensemble players, a chorus and more – Loud City Song sees her leave the limits of midi patches and home recording well and truly behind – adding even more intricacy and invention to her unique palette. Rich, fabulously textured and bathed in her own brand of heavenly ambience, it’s a record that simply sounds tremendous and endows her songs with a grandeur and dramatic poise only hinted at previously – perfect given the cinematic nature of the material itself.
For Holter, a single notion or phrase is often enough to inspire an entire record’s worth of material. Just as Tragedy took its core inspiration from one line plucked from Euripides’sHippolytus and became one of the most forward-thinking, emotionally impactful and culturally relevant albums of recent times, Loud City Song also uses a classic literary reference – Colette’s 1944 novella Gigi – as a prism through which Holter is able to explore her own perspective onmodern life. In this instance, she explores her own feelings about the superficial celebrity-obsessed contemporary media–both within her native LA and beyond–through a prism of the tale of the young Gigi being unwittingly groomed for a career as a courtesan in gossipy turn-of-the-century Paris.
“There are lots of things about Gigi that interest me”, explains Holter. “I think I could apply it very generally to feelings I’ve had in the past, growing up in a time and place where everyone is obsessed with celebrity, and watching paparazzi chase after famous people. I actually didn’t have to deal with that much growing up, because I wasn’t surrounded by a Hollywood crowd, and LA
is really big, but there still were hints of it, and I think we all see it, in reality television, which I think is horrific and boring. Gigi shares sentiments about things like this being boring, I think. I liked her character a lot and I wanted to do something with the story so it inspired me to think of my experience with LA in comparison to hers with Paris.”
Over the course of the ten songs on Loud City Song Holter projects the story of Gigi on to modern day LA, navigating its strangeness, beauty and madness from a number of perspectives and vantage points in incredibly evocative fashion. “I think the thing about LA is it’s hard to pin down exactly what it is–what it’s like, how it sounds, how it smells”, says Holter, “so when people make music about LA, which a lot of people do, it’s hard to identify particular things about it and it just becomes this great abstract or collage.”
The way Loud City Song captures those intangibles in its feeling, sound and dynamics lies at the very heart of the album’s beauty. It’s not just an album about a city in a two dimensional sense but an album that seems in possession of the very essence of the place itself, an album that extends an invitation not just to listen to it but to inhabit it, to discover it. As such Loud City Song takes a place in the great, time-honoured tradition of the artist’s fascination with the idea of the city itself – the chaos, romance, corruption, beauty and intense humanity of it all. “The city in the record could be any city really,” explains Holter, “and this media fascination with celebrity is everywhere – inescapable, scary.”
It’s a universal idea for certain but one that particularly resonates in Los Angeles, arguably the epicentre of this fixation and it feels appropriate that Holter, fast becoming one of the other side of the city’s most vital creative forces, is the artist discussing it. “One defining characteristic of LA music-makers might be a higher dose of pure originality than other places”, Holter says whilst pondering the concept of Loud City Song and the relationship of Los Angeles and its artists in general. “People are left to their own devices here a bit more, can be hermits and just do their thing, and they end up making music that might not have a lot of roots, very imaginative things, I think.” For that, and especially to Julia Holter, the rest of the world owes the city an enormous debt of gratitude.
Photos © 2013 by: C.B. Lindsey