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Julia Holter
Ekstasis Erin Lyndal Martin , March 2nd, 2012 10:20

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In 2011, Julia Holter arrived seemingly armed with wisdom beyond her years. That wisdom translated into her first full-length, Tragedy. A masterful work based on Euripides' Hippolytus, it was an album filled with the sort of vocal layering and echo chamber work that would make Meredith Monk or Alexis O'Hara proud.

The prolific Holter has returned already with Ekstasis (named after the Greek philosophical conception of a state of being outside of onself), her first for the RVNG label, and a more upbeat companion to Tragedy. For those worried that a sunnier record would deplete Holter's quiver of its arrows, fear not: Ekstasis is actually a much more fully realised record, one that packs more mass appeal than Tragedy without sacrificing artistic integrity. Some songs, like 'In The Same Room', even have pop sensibilities to them. The infectious melody, steady beats, and alternately twinkling and swirling synthesisers add up to a song you could include on a mix for your less experimentally-minded friends.

But fear not - Ekstasis is not a pop album by any stretch of the imagination. There are still some songs more in the vein of the eight-minute 'Boy In The Moon', a cathartic improvisation setting Holter's lulling vocal over a steady, spacey Casio SK-1. 'Four Gardens' is also an improvisation of sorts: the melody and lyrics were written as Holter experimented with a loop pedal to arrange an older song for a live performance. Beginning with whispers and evolving into a melodic refrain of "Will you come go, will you come go with me?," it maximises the negative space between clicks, loops, and vocals, and even a surprising saxophone at the song's end.

Spontaneous or not, the album is tight and succeeds in its aims, largely because of Holter's impressive vocal capabilities and ability to maximise even the most minimal backing music. Her voice ranges from the dreamily gothic, evocative of Faith & Disease, through whispers, to to an affected, Laurie Anderson-like style. This variety is clear from the start — the opening track, 'Marienbad' (probably based on the film Last Year At Marienbad) is a lush concoction of Fender Rhodes, the sounds of breath, and Holter's voice layered at all sorts of impressive ranges. The lyrics are intriguing too, as she intones "So bored in mammalian skin!... Over stone so still, like birds so stoically by the drain/Gardens carved of stone/The human whispers, so cold/A fountain ices over/A story over".

Holter even makes a concession to continuity here, featuring a song entitled 'Goddess Eyes II', a sequel to Tragedy's 'Goddess Eyes'. It doesn't deviate much from the original, Holter singing "I can see you, but my eyes are not allowed to cry" with the same mannered vocals, but as a standalone song it works well and doesn't seem out of place. 'Our Sorrows', the second track on Ekstasis, has a similarly affected and echoed style, though its melody is harder to follow than on other songs here.

Things come to a close with the nine minute 'This Is Ekstasis'. "This is not the quietness, this is the ekstasis/This is not ekstasis, this is the quietness," it affirms, rather ambivalently. Still, Holter can confirm or deny it all she wants - Ekstasis is ecstatically good.

Dan B
Mar 2, 2012 7:50pm

Really hated this album, completely unengaging shit and maddeningly studied and precious.

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Sean
Mar 2, 2012 11:23pm

Dan B is an idiot.

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Mar 3, 2012 12:41am

Dan B is a big idiot

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Jennifer
Mar 3, 2012 6:44am

Wow, not sure what Dan B. was listening to... this and Tragedy are the most mesmerizing albums I've heard in ages. Can't stop listening to either... and it's been some months with Tragedy!

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Dan B
Mar 3, 2012 8:17am

Overly-fussy anti-fun for the chattering classes. 'Gardens carved of stone' an apt lyric. But I'm an idiot, so what does it matter?

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Dan John
Mar 3, 2012 1:20pm

Really good album.

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Sam-Ewe-Elle
Mar 3, 2012 9:24pm

Smoke weed. Listen to Ekstasis.

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Rory Gibb
Mar 4, 2012 9:10pm

I feel like I need to spend loads more time with this album to fully absorb all its little intricacies, though I like it at least as much as Tragedy. I find her compositional style hugely enjoyable, and intriguing - she appears to be just as interested in vertical positioning of sound as its horizontal development as a 'song'. So often the most interesting aspects of her songs take place in the background, and begin almost as incidental shifts before changing the entire piece's mood, almost imperceptibly at first, before rippling outward to affect everything else in turn. It's a record I suspect a lot of people (myself included) will still be poring over come year end.

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Dan B
Mar 5, 2012 9:11am

In reply to Rory Gibb:

Yeah this kind of thing is exactly what I mean

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Dad B
Mar 5, 2012 10:34am

In reply to Dan B:

It's not that bad man. Yes, slightly off-putting big hype, (because she's attractive AND 'avant garde' - same with Grimes)
She might even make a record you like when she gets bored of the pretension

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Dan B
Mar 5, 2012 11:24am

In reply to Dad B:

Is she attractive? I wouldn't know. I just heard the NPR stream. Look, I suppose there are worse records out there, I just couldn't get into this, for all its 'vertical positioning of sound' nouse I just felt detached from it to a point where it made me mildly angry. The 'single' is nice, I've turned on that a bit, wouldn't want to paint myself completely into a corner.

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tim
Mar 6, 2012 1:32pm

In reply to Dan B:

Wow..dividing stuff. Got to listen now.

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TheStrobe
Mar 7, 2012 4:58pm

yeah, this is the kind of album that people who can't write properly structured songs, make.
directionless and pretentious to the nth degree.
remember people. interesting is not the same as good.

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Dan S
Mar 9, 2012 2:08pm

In reply to TheStrobe:

Yeah, this is the type of comment that people who can't write properly structured sentances make.
Pointless and bitchy to the nth degree.
Remember people. Snarkiness is not the same as insight.

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Carpathian
Apr 8, 2012 1:18pm

Very behind the curve on this but now I've caught up it's a beauty. Just got through my first listen and was amazed how engrossed I was. It felt like listening to the ear-child of Grimes & Gazelle Twin. That's a great thing.

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