- Cinematic avant-pop inspired by the din of modern life.
- It says something about the current moment that Julia Holter chose to make an album capturing the present. Her previous inspirations have been consistently antique. 2011's Tragedy was an operatic take on Euripides's play Hippolytus, and 2014's Loud City Song pulled from the mid-20th century French novella Gigi. While creating Aviary, Holter sifted through the noise around her. In an interview with Mary Anne Hobbs, she said, "[The album] is an exploration of sounds in times where I've felt speechless. I don't really know what to say these days about anything. It's a crazy loud world, and there's so much going on… It's hard to find words for it."
Aviary gets its name from a line in Etel Adnan's short story collection Master Of The Eclipse: "I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds." On her fifth album, Holter embraces that chaos while also trying desperately to find an escape from it. In the middle of the seemingly sweet and exuberant "Chaitius," everything starts to break down. A text-to-speech-like voice appears: "Joi, joi / I feel so alove." (Some of the words are taken from a 12th-century Occitanian poem.) Holter comes back, whispering, "Wait, wait." The two voices talk over each other until Holter's defeated voice plainly speaks, "Joi, ah, joi / So joi / I feel so joi."
After years of work often inspired by myths, plays and musicals (Holter turned Tragedy into a full-length opera in New York last year), it's fitting that Aviary feels like a film. Over 90 minutes, Holter guides you through euphoric, dramatic highs and anxious lows, dream-like montages and unbearably tense sequences. It's as cinematic as music can get.
But you don't have to listen to it that way. As Holter told Hobbs, "I want people to pick their path with it… It's not a start-to-finish type of thing." Each song is its own complete world, and visiting just one can be satisfying. Take the discordant "Everyday Is An Emergency," the most lifelike representation of birds on Aviary. When its stressful tones eventually dissolve, Holter plays the piano while singing a chain of rolling prepositions: "Heaven in the human in the arches in the weather in the table in the somber in the clanging in the kingdom... " Holter says she "was trying to create a sound bath, a cathartic experience." She does this by enunciating her lyrics so that they barely resemble recognizable words, and in the way she makes the synths, strings, horns dance around each other in the mix. The effect is both chaotic and calming.
Holter has always taken pop and presented her own masterful version of it. But her desire to break through the distressing clatter of the present is what makes Aviary her most captivating album yet. You feel the force of her willpower when you reach the determined "I Shall Love 2" and the cathartic release of the penultimate track, "I Shall Love 1," in which she invites you to join her in euphoria: "I am waiting for you / Come on over." Instead of reimagining and refocusing on moments come and gone, Holter's shift in focus reveals the meditative power her music can have in coping with and conquering the overwhelming noise of the present.
01. Turn The Light On
04. Voce Simul
05. Everyday Is An Emergency
06. Another Dream
07. I Shall Love 2
08. Underneath The Moon
10. In Gardens' Muteness
11. I Would Rather See
12. Les Jeux To You
13. Words I Heard
14. I Shall Love 1
15. Why Sad Song