Julia Holter
Loud City Song


4.5
superb

Review

by Alex Robertson STAFF
August 24th, 2013 | 250 replies | 28,755 views


Release Date: 08/01/2013 | Tracklist


Some time in 1995 the minimalist composer Steve Reich walked around outside his home in New York City and recorded various noises from around the metropolis: car horns, scraps of conversation, roadway construction. The result of these assorted recordings was City Life, often considered one of Reich’s most vital late-career compositions despite its doubling back on tape-loop techniques found in his earliest works, 1965’s It’s Gonna Rain and 1966’s Come Out. Before City Life and after it, many artists working in many different traditions and media have tackled the subject of The City--whether it be Reich’s New York, the city as a metaphysical entity, or some unnamed everycity--but Reich’s work seems to me especially pertinent in discussing how we approach these works, among them Julia Holter’s stunning new album, Loud City Song. This is because City Life represents the “purest” approach to creatively representing the city, an often hallowed subject among artists and their critics. Reich’s lack of embellishment, the seeming spontaneity of his approach, is often considered the apogee of artistic integrity in chronicling its subject. In this system, to which many of us uncritically subscribe, each creative flourish heaved by the artist onto the unadorned material is a step away from an unspoken goal of legitimacy. Or, as Pauline Kael deadpanned in her scathing takedown of Siegfried Kracauer’s Theory of Film: “a movie is only a movie if you can pretend it isn’t a movie.”

Loud City Song arrives not as a rejection of any particular ethos, not as the New Impressionism to Reich’s Realism, but as a refreshingly allusive and mysterious approach to the city--although that city has been transported to Holter’s native L.A., a city with its own set of images, referents, and mythologies. “World,” the album’s gorgeous and enigmatic opener, typifies her approach to the city. Through a series of disconnected images--“all the hats of the world,” including the one under which the city can’t see Holter’s eyes; “a singer on the fifth floor” that might be the artist herself--and an achingly gorgeous backing arrangement for piano and strings, Holter seems to summate the whole of the city through its constituent parts, a lyrical synecdoche of Los Angeles. There are no ostentatious displays of gritty realism here--no subway rattles, no piercing sirens--but we’re exposed regardless to what feels like the reality of the city, captured in an oblique manner that nonetheless seems to make manifest the process of losing yourself in the immense crowds of buildings and people that make up a city.

Of course, this entire analysis is predicated upon Holter’s, and Reich’s, apparent desire to “recreate” the city through music, a desire that may or may not exist. To frame Loud City Song as some sort of replica would be to do it a disservice. Instead, it uses the city as a foundation to launch into a myriad of other subjects, as last year’s similarly brilliant Ekstasis used Plotinus’s conception of “being outside oneself.” “Horns Surrounding Me,” an atypically intense track on an otherwise subdued album, finds itself in the head of a celebrity; the titular “horns” refer to the paparazzi from which she runs away. The point here is not to lend empathy to our oh-so-troubled superstars (Julia Holter: the Drake of modern art pop?), but rather to examine the unique ontological predicament we, the watchers, the paparazzi, put them in. Just as Ekstasis discussed the sensation of being outside oneself, so too does “Horns Surrounding Me,” which realizes that the celebrity as we perceive them and the celebrity as they are are two very different entities; when your whole life is being recorded, surely a casting off of the Self is entailed. The same, then, for living in a city, which must require on the part of the city-dweller an absorption into its manic energy. Whereas Ekstasis was all about the personal ecstasy of being outside oneself, Loud City Song is about that same process made a social phenomenon.

What makes this album such a galvanizing experience, however, is not its philosophical padding but how effectively it embodies this disembodiment. The stunning cover of Barbara Lewis’s “Hello Stranger” (1963) that serves as Loud City Song’s centerpiece illustrates this most effectively. Reinventing the soul hit as a ghostly drone of strings and reverberating vocals, Holter manages to transform the track’s sentiment, as well. In it I hear the transience that marks modern city life--the sense that we are all strangers, each one of us interrupting each other’s lives for moments only, before fading back into, as F. Scott Fitzgerald put it, “the constant flicker of men and women and machines”. I am reminded of my walks up Broadway in New York City, peeking into hotel lobbies and drugstores, filled with the sense that something is happening in these places, and that, even though I am not privy to it, I can still feel these places’s warmth radiate toward me. “It seems like a mighty long time,” Julia Holter whisper-sings, and I can feel that time stretch out in front of me.

The power of Loud City Song, then, lies not in the concepts upon which it deliberates, nor even the means through which it deliberates upon them, but rather how it translates these heady notions of the individual vs. the social, the Idea of the city, etc. into warm and loving compositions that first and foremost feel real. This idea, that the “unreal” can speak to us in ways more meaningful than even the “real”--that a florid album like Loud City Song can impart to us a truth that even its naturalist counterpart, City Life, cannot--has been in vogue ever since Claude Monet decided to whip up his Impression, Sunrise (1872) using loose brushstrokes en plein air (and before that, even; Hegel articulated this concept in his lectures on art). That said, I don’t want to necessarily favor one system of representation over another. All I want to convey is that this album is the sound of an excellent singer, songwriter, arranger, and, I’d argue, thinker translating those strengths into some of the most stirring music you’ll hear this year. Loud City Song may not be loud, but the echo it makes is unforgettable.



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user ratings (213)
Chart.
3.9
excellent
other reviews of this album
Spookrijder (4)
"Loud City Song" is another impressive achievement in Julia Holter's quickly burgeoning catalogue....

Otto Rasanen (3.5)
Holter creates a fantasy world full of detail and wonder - if only it was just as immersive....

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Comments:Add a Comment 
robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2013



14884 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

alright this is standard operation procedure at this point but i really felt the need to get this one done so i didnt read it before publishing T B Q H oops so comments & criticism welcome

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2013



14884 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

also i turned 18 yesterday everyone! wish me a happy birthday

YourDarkAffected
Contributing Reviewer
August 23rd 2013



1546 Comments


Wow thought you were older considering the quality of your writing. Happy birthday though!

And sweet review!

klap
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2013



10003 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

this album might not be loud, but that title sho ain't!

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2013



14884 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

if u imagine my review ending with emeril saying "BAM" ull get the full experience

breakingthefragile
August 23rd 2013



2935 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Happy birthday! Can't stress enough how much of an insanely good writer you are for your age dude.

klap
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2013



10003 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

you forgot to put what record label Monet was on when he dropped impression, sunrise on us in '72

sideburndude
August 23rd 2013



2782 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

Ahh, so excited to hear this.

Thanntos
August 23rd 2013



307 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

It's good....but not THAT good.

Chrisjon89
August 24th 2013



2964 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i feel the first half is much stronger but I like it alot.

and happy birthday man!

Digging: Elizabeth Rose - Elizabeth Rose

robertsona
Staff Reviewer
August 24th 2013



14884 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

hello stranger and he's running through my eyes are the best songs, next tier is probably world/maxim's I/city appearing

horns surrounding me is imo the worst, paired with in the green wild

every song is good

Chrisjon89
August 24th 2013



2964 Comments

Album Rating: 4.5

i love the chorus in Horns Surrounding Me. love the urgency in that song. Maxim's I is probably my favourite at this stage.

Havey
August 24th 2013



9319 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

HOLTER *___*

Digging: Tim McGraw - Not a Moment Too Soon

GiaNXGX
August 24th 2013



4867 Comments


hawt her

oltnabrick
August 24th 2013



29282 Comments


Cool album, thanks for reviewing it!

Digging: Gucci Mane and Young Thug - Young Thugga Mane La Flare

EaglesBecomeVultures
August 24th 2013



5051 Comments


but mthat title so aint!

Digging: Future - Honest

EaglesBecomeVultures
August 24th 2013



5051 Comments


sona your attention span is dope

AgainAnd
August 24th 2013



152 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Album is great. But what's wrong with Horns Surrounding Me and In the Green Wild in your opinion,
robertsona?

Chewie
August 24th 2013



4531 Comments


Woah man you're crazily intelligent for having just turned 18. You're probably the best active reviewer on the site by my watch. If your not in university I hope you pursue it.

robin
Emeritus
August 24th 2013



4223 Comments

Album Rating: 5.0

really stunning review alex. i love, love, LOVE what you said about hello stranger. love it

thing i personally disagree with (not that this negates the review at all) is "we, the watchers", the
idea that we put the
"celebrity" in view on this album. a lot of it feels very first-person (which leads to that idea we
are [all] strangers) -- horns surrounding me with the running away is excruciatingly intimate. my
god

seems like a mighty long time



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