Review Summary: sorry
On Julia Holter’s Ekstasis
, as John Keats once put in a famous letter, “the sense of Beauty overcomes every other consideration, or rather obliterates all consideration.” Ekstasis
is above all a very beautiful record, with Holter’s delicate voice floating in and out of recognizable aural and conscious space, intoning some seriously angelic shi
t like a mantra. “Boy in the Moon” is seriously lifted up by this--a swirl of guitars, Holter’s double tracked vocals, droning strings--and feels nearly stratospheric in its all-encompassing beauty. It’s up there, above where you, the listener, are; you are content, for eight minutes, to simply reach for it.
Speaking of which, here’s Keats in the same letter: “I mean Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason”. This is, structurally, what a track like “Boy in the Moon” feels like: constant progression, in the pursuit of some sort of finality...but what? Holter lingers in those very same uncertainties, mysteries, and doubts that Keats delineates in his letter--and so too does her audience. Can we “understand” Ekstasis
? Or is that lack of understanding--that search
for understanding--the whole point? Holter very deliberately (or so I must assume) names the gorgeous, labyrinthine opening track “Marienbad” after Alain Resnais’ Last Year at Marienbad
, an early-’60s art-film masterpiece of repeated visual and aural motifs: people who stand together in the same room, gardens, questions--all of this cycling until it slowly begins to disquiet the soul. This is the same general aesthetic-philosophical vein in which Proust, Borges, Resnais, and, yes, Keats work: what makes “You” up? Can you be yourself and simultaneously not yourself? The house you lived in as a child, the cup of tea you once drank--are these all inextricably part of your being? Have we met before? Is this Ekstasis?
Keats, in 1819, reached a point of self-referential glory with his poem “On the Sonnet,” which laments the way in which the strict sonnet form of poetry constrains the possibility of aesthetic fulfillment--doing this all, naturally, in sonnet form. Ekstasis
, being just that, has the ability to step outside itself and look at itself, as a work of art. The way in which “Goddess Eyes II” links itself to “Goddess Eyes I”--and also to Tragedy
’s “Goddess Eyes”--is thoroughly and magnificently deliberate. Don’t even get me started on “This is Ekstasis”. (Is it? Or is that just what this dense and beautiful beast of an album is named?) What is this album but “ten signs that read silence”?
John Keats, nearly writing this review for me, ended his indelible “Ode on a Grecian Urn” with these words: “Beauty is truth, truth beauty--that is all / Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Which, yes, is a truth in itself that Holter, with this album--this foster-child of silence and slow time--aspires to affirm. How much do we need to know that we don’t already know? “Moni Mon Amie” will come on soon. Listen, silently, to the overcoming and obliteration of every other consideration. This, surely, is ecstasy--or maybe the simply journey on the way to such an ideal. Stand outside yourself. Reach.