Julia Holter: Albums Ranked from Worst to Best

Milwaukee-born Julia Holter bridges musical worlds. She is classically trained and merges avant-garde ideas with electronic sounds and indie chamber pop. Impressively, she played all the instruments and self-produced her early albums.

Holter is Influenced by esoteric musicians like Alice Coltrane and Arthur Russell. She also enjoys adventurous pop/rock by acts like The Cocteau Twins and Brian Eno.

Holter’s recently released her sixth album, Something In The Room She Moves. It’s a great opportunity to look back at her impressive discography.

#6 Tragedy

Holter made some small-scale records before Tragedy, but this 2011 record is usually reckoned as her debut. She was still finding her feet as a record maker at this point. She self-produced Tragedy, and it’s more austere and homespun than subsequent records.

It’s based on the play Hippolytus, written by Euripides in 428 BC. It has strong moments like ‘Tragedy Finale’ and the electronic pop of ‘Goddess Eyes’. But Holter would only become more accomplished as a writer and arranger.

#5 Ekstasis

Holter’s albums alternate between conceptual records and collections of songs. Ekstasis is one of the latter, and its title is a Greek word, meaning “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere”. As with her debut, Holter produced and played all the instruments herself.

It was recorded concurrently with Tragedy, so talking about it as a leap forward is inaccurate. But it’s a more accessible record, with pretty tunes like ‘Our Sorrows’ and ‘Boy in the Moon’.

#4 Something in the Room She Moves

Holter’s sixth album finds a smart mid-point between the accessibility of Have You In My Wilderness and the arty explorations of Aviary. But it’s not her most consistent, with some slower, less impressive tracks. Holter took a long break between records, as she became a mother for the first time. Many of her songs are inspired by literature, and motherhood gave her less opportunity to read.

It’s not as consistent as her best records, but there are some terrific tracks. ‘Evening Mood’ captures the smoky, mellow feel of some of Holter’s best work. On the other hand, ‘Spinning’ is energetic by Holter’s standards, especially the memorable chorus – “What is delicious?/And what is omniscient?/And what is the circular magic I’m visiting?” The prominent fretless bass recalls Joni Mitchell and Kate Bush’s peak eras.

#3 Loud City Song

Holter used an outside producer and other musicians for the first time on her third album. Coupled with Holter’s growing skills as an arranger and writer, Loud City Song sounds bigger and more professional than before. It’s a thematic album, about the effects of noise on residents of big cities.

Holter takes advantage of the extra instruments at her disposal with tracks like ‘Horns Surrounding Me’, with its galloping beat and energetic horns. The closer ‘City Appearing’ is suitably epic in its scope.

#2 Have You In My Wilderness

Holter horrified some avant-garde-leaning fans with the accessible Have You In My Wilderness. Songs like ‘Feel You’ and ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ are downright tuneful, surprising if you only know Holter for avant-garde work like Aviary and Tragedy.

But it’s high quality anyway. Despite the pop hooks, it’s always tasteful and restrained. And there’s enough exploration to satisfy more adventurous fans, like the lengthy ‘Vasquez’ and the pretty ‘Lucette Stranded on the Island’.

#1 Aviary

Holter’s best-loved work is an ambitious double LP. She told Pitchfork that “I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds’. What I’ve realized is that there are these connections in my mind between extremes: beautiful sounds of birds, shrieking sounds of birds, beautiful memories, terrible memories… And that’s where Aviary all made sense to me: These birds that are like memories flying around, everything kind of happening at once”.

Alternately beautiful and dissonant, Aviary is a challenging listen. But there are accessible entry points like ‘Les Jeux To You’ and ‘I Shall Love 2’. It’s dense and lengthy, but Aviary will probably be remembered as Holter’s masterpiece.

Did I underrate your favourite Holter record?

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