Tuesday, March 27, 2012

julia holter: ekstasis (rvng intl)

Damn with faint praise, assent with civil leer,
And without sneering, teach the rest to sneer;
Willing to wound, and yet afraid to strike,
Just hint a fault, and hesitate dislike.
–‘Epistle to Dr Arbuthnot’ by Alexander Pope (1735)

I agree. I ‘assent.’ Ekstasis is a lovely record. Bedroom pop that floats and swoons, it has a lightness to it at the same time as a real sense of seriousness and ambition. Pop(era). High and low: Academia and the Underground, Anne Carson and Ariel Pink, Mythos and Melody. On the one hand, Euripides, Sappho, Cage, concrète, cello, Chion, the conservatoire. On the other, synths, canned drums, ambient drones and supple tunes, Kate Bush, Enya, New Age, Nite Jewel, Not Not Fun.

Julia Holter makes celestial lo-fi with lofty, hi-fi aspirations. That is her appeal. That is the balancing act that she got so utterly right on 2011’s Tragedy, the record that catapulted her from the obscure netherworlds of art-school experimentalism (2008’s re-imagining of Cage’s ’___, ___ ___ circus on ___’ eventually released on CD-R as Cookbook and 2010’s collection of urban field-recordings Celebration) right into the center of the alt mainstream.

Ekstasis will surely cement her position there. It involves precisely the same double-logic as Tragedy, except with the exact opposite orientation. Where Tragedy was an overtly conceptual, experimental record with a pop flavor, Ekstasis is a pop record with a dash or three of experimentalism. And it works. As I say, it’s lovely; finely crafted; elegant; a really nice listen. As a result, it will probably endear Holter to more rather than fewer listeners. But to these ears at least, it also feels like a retraction: a withering of ambition, a withdrawal in too many places of precisely the things that made Tragedy so special and unique...

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