An artist vividly committed to exploring new frontiers in a rewarding way.
Hari Ashurst 2012
On Julia Holter's previous record, Tragedy, she had a song called Try to Make Yourself a Work of Art. Even written down that's an interesting enough mantra, and one that Holter takes to the next level on Ekstasis – a piece of art so alive it feels like it could very well be sentient.
The droning psychedelia of Our Sorrows is a good example. Holter bursts into a gorgeous chorus – "If you call out, call out call out I will follow" – almost immediately, pitching the song in more of a 'pop' territory than ever before. But this conventional start soon unravels: background chatter and a solitary synth make for particularly ghostly spectres as Holter drags the song further and further away from its genesis point.
These wormholes that Holter throws her songs through make them feel like a steady stream of barely trapped thoughts. That's not to say this is an inaccessible record though; instead, the reflexive leaps that Holter makes allow the world of Ekstasis to exist as a terrifically rewarding and immersive listen.
Holter balances her mostly zoned-out atmospheres with a couple of moments of ecstatic release. The biggest of these is In the Same Room – the most conventional and striking moment on the album. For the first three minutes the song unfurls just like a pop song. Electronic beats push a steady momentum while Holter playfully darts around two of the record’s strongest hooks. Small details gather and drive towards a climax that doesn't quite happen – rather, the song ebbs and slips dreamily back into the pretty soundscapes that characterise the rest of Ekstasis.
Boy in the Moon strikes an even prettier pose. Melancholy guitar delays bounce around while Holter sings in snippets – not too far off Trish Keenan or Nico. With no obvious rhythm to pin things down the song feels gaseous and spectral – then, later in the piece, when Holter languidly sings "This plane is taking off" synths zoom upwards in pitch and you get the feeling that the song just might just leave the ground. Indeed, Ekstasis' most alluring and unique quality is that you don't quite know where it might turn next. In a musical landscape stuffed with closely defined micro-genres and a tendency to look backwards for inspiration it's both refreshing and exciting to hear an artist so vividly committed to exploring new frontiers in such a rewarding way.