The scope of Julia Holter’s new record is immense. Frightening, in fact. She has created her own universe, much like Björk did on Homogenic or Utopia, or Bowie did on Low, or Pink Floyd did on Dark Side of the Moon. Yes, think big, think grandiose and epic vision, think aliens landing on earth and recording the sound in their head – both the history and their reaction to their new surroundings – for everyone to discover.
This is not an easy record. Not at all. We witnessed the jazzy birth of a true artist on Loud City Song, following on from the immense potential signalled by Marienbad and the subsequent pop masterpiece of Have You In My Wilderness. Aviary goes off in another direction completely. If those records were half familiar terrain and half an expedition into an adventurous spirited mind, then this is lost on safari completely.
The first track is a sign of what is to come. From the very beginning a storm of strings, a suffocating cacophony of noise, surrounds and near swallows her voice as she sings at her loudest from the eye of the storm. It’s a spectacular opening and details her intent in what will go on to be by far and away her most ambitious project. Fifteen tracks. An hour and a half of music. Perhaps only Joanna Newsom’s Have One On Me is comparable from recent memory in that regard.
Only one track comes in at under three minutes, a track that is reminiscent of this record’s predecessor, only busier and heavier. There’s a clatter to this album, of voices and general life, that until near its end threatens to entirely defeat the creator, the listener and all else in between.
‘Ambitious’ doesn’t really come close. It’s an enormous project that must be heard to be believed. Whether or not you can appreciate the blood, sweat and tears and the vision of this lady is another matter.
One thing is for certain, Julia Holter has made her OK Computer/Kid A jump in one go. It may not always be an easy listen but it’s without doubt the most valuable piece of music of 2018, for many reasons, many of those I am still yet to uncover. And over a double-CD length record Holter puts to bed the oft-proffered suggestion that the ‘album’ format is dead. For long may the format, and she, the Queen of all that is odd in modern music, live.