Aug 18, 2014

pretty // guethary

guethary, france. 

once again went to a lovely place on a whim, without a proper camera. 

beach // dunkerque

malo les bains, dunkerque, france.

musique du lundi - monday music (julia holter)

pour la deuxième fois je mets julia holter car j'avais acheté l'album loud city song à londres.
1er post ici

for the second time i present julia holter bcause i had bought the loud city song in london.
1st post here

maxim's again because i love it...

In an early scene in the still-fascinating, delightfully bizarre 1958 MGM musical Gigi, a few characters enter a restaurant called Maxim’s. The vibe is Moulin Rouge meets Cheers: a frenetic, turn-of-the-century Parisian haunt where, for better or worse, everybody knows your name. When each couple enters Maxim’s-- yes, couple; somehow you get the sense that it would be social suicide for a respectable lady of the time to step foot in the place unaccompanied-- a crowd of patrons begins to chant in a hushed, gossipy tone. As they whisper the kinds of things that people rarely say aloud (even when they’re thinking them), and the scene draws a bleak, ironic contrast between people’s private thoughts and the outward demands of polite society. “Isn’t she a mess? Isn’t she a sight?” they say as one pair enters. “Let’s invite them out tomorrow night!”
“There’s something kind of creepy about that scene that I wanted to bring out,” L.A. avant-pop musician Julia Holter said in a recent interview, talking about “Maxim’s I & II”, a gorgeous (if slightly sinister) pair of songs that appear on her mesmerizing third album, Loud City Song. Holter’s said that the album is her own loose interpretation of Gigi-- both the musical and the original 1944 novella by the French writer Colette (the plot, in the expert, proto-Twitter brevity of a Turner Classic Movie blurb: “A Parisian girl is raised to be a kept woman but dreams of love and marriage.”).
Plenty of other songwriters might fumble or stiffen when drawing on source material from decades before they were born, but not Holter. Maybe it’s because making a record based on a 1950s MGM musical is actually her idea of keeping things new-school: Tragedy, her 2011 debut, was an ambitious yet intimate meditation on ancient Greek playwright Euripides’ Hippolytus, while her dreamily crystalline follow-up Ekstasis (also a nod to ancient Greece) sounded like bedroom pop made by somebody with pin-ups of Heidegger and Virginia Woolf (and also maybe Laurie Anderson) papering the walls. Holter’s music is learned (she studied musical composition at CalArts) and proudly erudite, and yet not in a way that feels like it’s talking down to the listener. Still, she’s never made a record quite as inviting as Loud City Song-- her first album for Domino and the one most likely to turn skeptics to believers. From the panoramic ballroom swoon of “Maxim’s I” to the twinkling, kinetic chatter of its sequel, there’s an energy coursing through Loud City Song that makes it feel-- more than anything she’d done so far-- breezy, contemporarily resonant, and at all times flutteringly alive.
Loud City Song is the first album that Holter recorded outside of her bedroom, and-- like a 19th century French literary heroine seeking the therapeutic air of a seaside vacation-- the change in scenery seems to have loosened her up a bit. If Ekstasis had the serene intimacy of home recordings made with the apartment curtains drawn, Loud City Song finds her flinging open the drapes and taking rhythmic cues from the bustle of people below. Much of this newfound dynamism comes from adding new collaborators (and returning to trusted old ones: like Ekstasis, the record was mixed and co-produced by Ariel Pink collaborator Cole Mardsen Greif-Neill) and embracing a more jazz-oriented instrumentation-- trombones, strings, and a double bass all add a little drama, agility, and even playfulness to her sound.
Holter name-checks old Parisian landmarks like Maxim’s and says she was also inspired by the disconnectedness and buzzing anonymity of her hometown ("In L.A., it's like everyone's invisible. That's why I like it here."). But what gives these songs an emotional resonance beyond the confines of her own imagination is the way they capture something universal about the joys and anxieties of living in any modern city. As Holter's nimble voice skips between her siren-song falsetto and a more percussive delivery closer to spoken word, the mood of the album is in constant flux: in the menacing “Horns Surrounding Me” the brisk footfall of her fellow passersby evokes claustrophobia, danger and paranoia (is she being chased? Or is it all in her head?), but by the next song, the playful pop-cabaret “In the Green Wild”, she’s looking at her fellow pavement-pounders with a sense of bemused wonder.
Still, it’s the album’s centerpiece, a hypnotizing six-and-a-half minute rendition of Barbara Lewis' “Hello Stranger”, that might just be the most uncomplicatedly gorgeous thing Holter’s ever done. It’s risky to tackle a tune that’s been covered enough times to make it feel like a modern-day standard, but Holter’s atmospheric take finds a particular strain of longing and serenity in the song. It's a heart-stopper. Amidst the rest of Loud City Song’s chatty, high-concept vitality, “Hello Stranger” is a moment of comfort and instant connection, like suddenly spotting a familiar face on a busy street.
Though there’s definitely a narrative arc to the record, it doesn’t stick so close to the Gigi script to become tedious; Loud City Song moves with an internal logic that’s more impressionistic than literal. Some of its pieces do stand sturdily on their own, but taken in one sitting the album unfurls like one long, thoughtfully arranged composition-- lyrics and images recur, and characters gradually evolve. The narrator at the center (Gigi? Holter? Some kind of poetic hybrid of the two?) begins as a detached, observant outsider-- just another anonymous face gazing curiously at the city below from the perch of her fifth-floor walk-up ("I don't how why I wear a hat so much," Holter sings beneath the sparse groan of a cello on the opening song, "World", "The city can't see my eyes under the brim.") But by the end-- the second-to-last track, “This Is a True Heart” prances like a lazy-Sunday carousel ride-- she sounds not only more vulnerable but lighter, too. In a way, the arc of Loud City Song mirrors Holter’s artistic evolution: Ekstasis found kindred spirits in statues and goddesses (“I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry,” she repeated on “Goddess Eyes II”, cloaked in a vocoder), but the psychologically complex narrator at the heart of Loud City Song moves like flesh and blood.
“There’s a flavor to the sound of walking no one ever noticed before," Holter chants in a rapt whisper throughout "In the Green Wild". It's a telling line: Loud City Song is one of those records so full of un-jaded wonder and attuned to the secret music of ordinary things that the world looks a little bit different while it's playing. I don't think I fully appreciated it until I listened to the whole thing while looking out a second-story window onto a crowded street during rush hour, watching an endless procession of people with eyes hidden to the city under the brims of hats (or, to update Holter's image, staring down at their iPhones). To the tune of "World", I started wondering who they all were, where they were rushing, and what they were thinking. Though it draws upon the distant past, Julia Holter's made a timeless people-watching soundtrack: an acutely felt ode to the mysteries of a million passersby, all the stars of their own silent musicals.

By Lindsay Zoladz from pitchfork


Loudness isn't a quality one associates with Julia Holter. Her previous two releases, Tragedy and Ekstasis, were anything but brash – not restrained, exactly, because she drew on a well of emotion for moments of unexpected power, but they were mostly gentle, pensive albums. And although she is a Los Angeles native and resident, her songs showed little sign of their urban origins. This was intensely introspective music, born of the bedroom studio.

On Loud City Song, her first full release on Domino, Holter has said that rather than "pulling songs out of [her]self," she decided to "come at it from a different place and engage with society." If this is Holter's version of a state-of-the-nation album, her methods are unconventional: she has based it on Colette's 1944 novella Gigi and its glitzy Hollywood musical adaptation. Holter was especially influenced by a scene from the film when Gigi enters the Paris restaurant Maxim's on the arm of a famous bachelor. The other diners are immediately silenced, and then start up their chattering again, exercised by what they have just seen. The moment captures effectively the timeless dynamics of gossip and intrigue, but here it speaks for something more. What occupies Holter is the place of the individual in the crowd and in society, especially the sometimes overwhelming version that is city life. And as an artist, she is individual in both senses: her music, with its ambition and abstruse references, reveals a distinct, unusual sensibility, and until now she has operated alone on most of her tracks.

This time around she had the budget to record in a studio, where she worked with a cast of horn and string players. On much of the album their contributions boost the sound, whether to jarring, claustrophobic effect as 'Maxim's II' spirals into dissonance, or providing a bed of soaring strings on 'Maxim's I'. Each of these songs is a negative of the other, sharing lyrics but little else. Occasionally the album does indeed get loud, but for the most part the new instrumentation gives the album a physical presence: percussion is often shunned in favour of keyboard and string swells, or pulsing trombone and saxophone, as on the aptly titled 'Horns Surrounding Me'.

Yet for all the album's richness and detail, there is little sense of the city's multiplicity. Instead, we only really see Holter, or the character that she is playing. Her lovely voice grows more confident with each album but it is on the thin side, and when pitched high it risks being smothered by its lush accompaniment. She avoids this trap here by playing with her delivery: on 'Maxim's I' and 'Maxim's II' she adopts an exaggerated, vaguely European accent, while in the first half of 'In The Green Wild' she resembles Joni Mitchell, her voice veering between conversational and singsong falsetto. Holter has always favoured repetition, and that is in evidence here – few songs have a verse-chorus structure, so the momentum often comes from her singing. She commands attention, and there is little doubt that we are in her world: these songs are mostly monologues, without straightforward storytelling, and the lyrics are often impressionistic sketches, stitching together fragments. Album opener 'World' sets the tone: Holter seems isolated ("I don't know how I wear a hat so much, even when I run. The city can't see my eyes under the brim") and a little lost.

Is there any room for others? Two songs hint at intimacy. 'Hello Stranger', a cover of a Barbara Lewis song, is a cousin of Ekstasis' 'In the Same Room', both sounding like 60s pop filtered through a gauze of memories. Here, when she borrows someone else's words, Holter is at her most direct, welcoming some long lost love who has "stopped by to say hello". But as the song stretches beyond six minutes, Holter's fragile coos become less and less promising – "please don't treat me like you did before", she asks, "because I still love you so". The connection is just as fleeting on 'He's Running Through My Eyes', although now Holter is the evasive party: this time, she insists, her "stubborn mind will take her love seriously," but it is hard to believe her as her bewitching vocals float away.

  Holter does acknowledge the city's charms. 'This is A True Heart', the album's most straightforwardly enjoyable song, settles into a yacht rock groove that would make Ariel Pink proud. This is music for cruising around LA, Holter's vocals at once affectless and coquettish. "Come, let's not insist on ‘love,'" she sings. "We're just alive." It's a seductive message, and we can't help wanting to join Holter for the ride. But she sounds most free when she leaves it all behind on the stunning In the Green Wild: "I'm done. Off to the wild for me." Halfway through, the song opens up: it suddenly feels boundless, as strings swoop and Holter hovers above it all. Hers is an almost Romantic wonder in the face of nature, but it stops short of full embrace – after Holter describes a flower "laughing so naturally", her attempts at laughter are flat, as if she can't truly commune with what she sees.

Ultimately, Holter doesn't choose between the city and the wild, isolation and the collective. She says that the album is "about someone trying to find love and truth in a superficial society," and it's that deliberation and striving that it dramatises effectively. These are predominantly questions of youth and, accomplished as Holter is, she also sounds like someone still trying to figure things out. There is a searching, open-ended quality to her work, despite Loud City Song and Tragedy's impressive conceptual integrity. Each release is distinct and yet overlapping, like circles in a Venn diagram: 'Goddess Eyes' premiered on one album and appeared, twice, on the next; 'Maxim's II' originated in the Ekstasis sessions.

People will claim, considering Loud City Song's relatively slick production and shorter songs, that Holter's craft is becoming increasingly polished, but that doesn't quite hold. It is an easier, more focused listen than Ekstasis, but there is nothing here to rival that album's 'Marienbad' for sophisticated songwriting – and, besides, like other artists from the LA underground, her music rejects the simplistic opposition of "pop" and "experimental". By that same logic, it's hard to envisage a "definitive" release. Holter will keep on taking inspiration from life and art and negotiating their dilemmas – all without raising her voice.

by daniel cohen, the quietus