Published Oct 23, 2018Julia Holter isn't prone to small, easy statements. Baroque and oblique in equal measure, her music teases out obscure details and ineffable moods through lush orchestral arrangements and expansive structures. She's a purposeful songwriter whose work demands patience.
That's never been more apparent than on her fifth studio album. Clocking in at a whopping 90 minutes, and offering up relatively few hooks before the halfway mark, Aviary doesn't make concessions to passive listeners. But those who stick with it will be treated to Holter's most touching work yet: a lyrical, meticulously composed album that treasures empathy and togetherness amid turbulence and uncertainty.
Achieving that harmony isn't simple, though. The first-person narratives that Holter used to great effect on tracks like "World" and "How Long?" are largely absent on Aviary. Instead, she leaves listeners to pick through impressionistic fragments and reconstitute them into something meaningful. "Les Jeux to You" sees her joyously tossing out a mishmash of verbs, while "Words I Heard" refutes chaos with a pure declaration of love. It's a potent fulfillment of "I Shall Love 2," a centrepiece that turns a simple declaration into a triumphant refrain.
As exultant as Holter's lyrics can be, the compositions on Aviary lift them even higher. This is her most synthetic album since 2012's Ekstasis, but its electronic flourishes never overwhelm the naturalism of traditional instruments. Synthesizers bob steadily over a bed of strings on "Whether," burble like a creek on "Another Dream," and ring out notes like bells on "Colligere." Everything feels cohesive, even as Holter channels everything from a sombre lament on "In Gardens' Muteness" to a celebratory chant on "I Shall Love 1."
Sweeping and intimate all at once, Aviary never settles for comforting platitudes or dour resignation. It's honest, it's hopeful, and it's surely among Holter's finest achievements. (Domino)