Julia Holter – Loud City Song


Released: August 20, 2013

Label: Domino

Producer: Julia Shammas Holter

Genre: Ambient, Experimental, Avante-Garde


01 World
02 Maxim’s I
03 Horns Surrounding Me
04 In the Green Wild
05 Hello Stranger
06 Maxim’s II
07 He’s Running Through My Eyes
08 This Is a True Heart
09 City Appearing

Holter: Yeah. The way this happened is that I was working on Ekstasis, my last record, and I was working on this one song for it that….well, I wanted to write a song about this scene from the musical Gigi and I finished it was like, “This is really different from Ekstasis and it doesn’t really fit.” It sounded weird and it needed its own context, so I decided that it would be the basis for my new record. It’s not a musical remake or something, but it is just sort of thematically inspired by Gigi. And then I thought about why do I want to use this material? What is interesting to me about it? How can I apply it my contemporary world?

Stereogum: And what was it that was interesting to you about it?

Holter: Well I think what was interesting to me about that scene in the musical is just the way that everyone is chanting and how creepy it is…and cool and weird, especially for a mainstream Hollywood musical. There was something kind of creepy about that scene that I wanted to bring out…and the way everything suddenly is quiet, and then it gets loud again–it had these different elements I wanted to bring out and it had an interesting dynamic between people. Also, I was excited to write about society, societal dynamics, as opposed to like, being so much in my head as I had been on previous records. This probably doesn’t make as much sense if you haven’t watched Gigi lately.

“There’s something kind of creepy about that scene that I wanted to bring out,” L.A. avant-pop musician Julia Holter said in a recent interview, talking about “Maxim’s I & II”, a gorgeous (if slightly sinister) pair of songs that appear on her mesmerizing third album, Loud City Song. Holter’s said that this album is her own loose, strange interpretation of Gigi, both the musical and the 1944 novella by the french writer Colette.

Maybe that’s always where she got her inspiration. Her debut, Tragedy was an ambitious interpretation of ancient Greek playwright Euripides’ Hippolytus. Her dreamy follow up Ekstasis (which also has some reference to Greek and ancient Greece) sounds like a mix between Virginia Woolf and Laurie Anderson. I have to admit though, this album was far more and very much inviting. It made i easier, I don’t think, only for me but for every pseudo-skeptic of Julia Holter out there. It’s almost like she’s talking to the listener, inviting him over to have a chat with her.

What made her “loosen up” and easier to listen in comparison with her two previous releases, I think, is the fact that this is the first album she’s recorded out of her bedroom! The scenery change has done her wonders. Ekstasis had a claustrophobic, but still serene, feeling of someone having their curtains closed, hauled up in their room and recording. Now it looks like she opened the curtains wide open and looked outside on the” hustle and bustle” of the people and the city.

Still, it’s the album’s centerpiece, a hypnotizing six-and-a-half minute rendition of Barbara Lewis‘ “Hello Stranger”, that might just be the most uncomplicatedly gorgeous thing Holter’s ever done. It’s risky to tackle a tune that’s been covered enough times to make it feel like a modern-day standard, but Holter’s atmospheric take finds a particular strain of longing and serenity in the song. It’s a heart-stopper. Amidst the rest of Loud City Song’s chatty, high-concept vitality, “Hello Stranger” is a moment of comfort and instant connection, like suddenly spotting a familiar face on a busy street.

The best thing about this record (and sadly less than half of the records that are based on musicals or novels) is that it doesn’t stick so close to the script of Gigi, at least enough to become tedious. Holter decides to take a more impressionistic approach to the album rather than literal. Some of its pieces do stand out on their own but the whole record is one beautifully thought through composition.

The narrator at the center (a possible all knowing poetic combination of Holter and the novelist?) begins as a detached, observant outsider (“I don’t how why I wear a hat so much,” Holter sings beneath the sparse groan of a cello on the opening song, “World”, “The city can’t see my eyes under the brim.”)

“There’s a flavor to the sound of walking no one ever noticed before,” Holter chants in a rapt whisper throughout “In the Green Wild”.

Each of these tracks on Loud City Song unsung musical genius and a beautiful playfulness you want to tell of. Each of these songs is a hero in a musical I suppose.

Loud City Song is out via Domino