Sound — 9
Home recordings, a degree from the California Institute of the Arts, and a tag-team with Ariel Pink producer Cole M Grief-Neill; it all comes down to this. Though with "Tragedy" and "Ekstasis," LA's singer-songwriter Julia Holter had certainly made a name for herself, it is in 2013 that she has crafted an avant-garde masterpiece. Generally tagged as experimental electronic and various forms of indie, Holter truly belongs with the unexpected likes of Giles Corey and various niche artists. This particular magnum opus, "Loud City Song," is a gorgeous mix of orchestra, electronic, and voice in a setting nothing short of profound. The record opens with a beautiful collage of voice on the part of Holter on "World." Throughout the record, her ability to paint and sow beautiful soundscapes are a large part of the sound. Accompanying are occasional hints of jazz ("Maxim's I" has some "Us and Them" flavor), ambient flourish ("Horns Surrounding Me"), and some electronic indie with... Wait a minute, the hell is that? ("Maxim's II"). Every moment is gripping, whether with the intensity of the "Maxim's" tracks or the tenderness of "World" and "He's Running Through My Eyes." The movements of each song and each segment of the album are so distinct, and yet fit so seamlessly, that "Loud City Song" at times suggest it cannot help its own genius. This isn't another convoluted effort by Muse or whomsoever; this is sound and beauty on a scope often surpassing even Fiona Apple's beloved latest. "Hello Stranger" is an instant classic. To some degree, "Loud City Song" is a concept album, and the sound more than fits the mold well enough to tell its stories; though distinctive, the multiple styles and layers per track feel more like a natural soundtrack than one of, say, Roger Waters' often over-stated solo projects. The record, as well as Holter herself, are just terribly inviting. To some extent, the sound may play a disadvantage to the concept, as it's a bit difficult to pick apart at the outset. Much like a record such as "Dark Side of the Moon," "Loud City Song"'s composition works with or without any sort of concept (while the same cannot always be said for "The Wall" or some of Holter's earlier releases). Perhaps by accident, perhaps on a dare, Julia Holter has reaped a bountiful reward in discovering the core of the concept album.
Lyrics — 9
As stated previously, a great mess of the record finds the spotlight taken by Holter herself. "World" and "He's Running Through My Eyes" showcase incredible power in the tiniest voice on tape. Truly, there is nothing grand or bombast about Julia Holter's vocal work; her greatest strengths are nuance and timing. Whether a capella or accompanied by a whole slew of classical (or electronic) instruments, Holter's voice simply captures. Likewise, her writing is quite soft but interjects occasionally powerful statements; the album's juxtaposition between vintage Paris and modern-day LA makes room for strikingly universal truths.
Overall Impression — 9
Though entirely unused and usually opposed to overstepping critical boundaries or making personal remarks, I'm calling "album of the year" in at least one... Do they call them webzines?.. And top 10 in most publications of the sort. In spite of the typical dreariness of many releases that claim the avant-garde tagline, Julia Holter has stepped in with a piano, a voice, and a bit of lo-fi indie to create a masterpiece. Oh, "Loud City Song" is short of perfect, as most everything somehow manages to be, but if "City Appearing" doesn't send listeners off utterly in a cerebral daze, perhaps Holter has the right idea in creating music that rewards patience. It may well circle back into the hayday of conceptual writing, circa 1970 so on. Regardless. The year is 2013, the name is Julia Holter, and the album is "Loud City Song." It is a simply effervescent fusion of voice, lyric, and instrumentation.