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coverpic flag US - California - Full Moon 209 - 09/19/13

Julia Holter
Loud City Song
Domino Recording Co.

Julia might easily be dismissed as another arty-farty female singer-songwriter in the pop-jazz field. That would be a mistake. Well, the arrangements of Loud City Song are pretty sophisticated, occasionally a bit too much for my taste. But it's a really tasteful album with some great melodies, and even greater moods and lyrics. We might put Julia in the bag along with Icelandic Björk and even closer to Norwegian Anja Garbarek. There's something of Joanna Newsom in here occasionally, too. All these ladies' voices can sometimes sound fragile and childish in between and the artists have an urge to experiment with sounds and moods both outside and inside the recording studio. Well, this is Julia's first result after spending time and creativeness in a professional studio. Her first two albums have humbler origins.

Julia brings out some of her best cards at the beginning of the album. Only her voice and very discreet piano, other keyboards and some strings here and there in the opener "World". Spine chilling stuff:

all the cities of the world.
What are you wearing?
I live on the 5th floor of the apartment building.
What am I looking for in you?
How can I escape you?

In fact most of the album deals with impressions or moods from Julia's city, Los Angeles. The arrangements grow bigger with the following songs. "Maxim's I" is probably my favourite of the lot. A languishing slow dance driven forward by real drums, then a reflective halt before the dance continues. "He's Running Through My Eyes" is another catchy goodie, but completely ruined by a dreadful lounge-jazz sax solo. "Horns Surrounding Me"...indeed! Julia closest to Björk. Here are sombre violins and tasty keyboards, too, and Julia no doubt enjoys reverb, echo and other assorted effects on the instruments and voices. Almost too much, too pleasant and soft for its own good in between, like the cover version of Barbara Lewis' classic 1963-hit "Hello Stranger" and Julia's own "This Is A True Heart". A wise move then to include some songs more on the attack in between. "In The Green Wild" is the most jazzy offer here, only with a cool double bass and percussion along with the voice at first, before a fuller arrangment changes the mood. "Maxim's II" is without any question the heaviest with loud rhythms, brass, an impetuous jazzy sax competition and an abrupt stop that goes through a quiet almost avant-garde passage before the full groove is turned on again and blows away the remaining dust. The album fades away with the half-experimental "City Appearing", cool and quiet.

Load City Song is mainly a hushed affair. Apart from "Maxim's II", it works really well for relaxation and reflection at the same time. If you want to listen to a, mainly, harmonic album that are matched by substance, well, this is for you.

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