Julia Holter – Tragedy

Last Saturday I blogged about Julia Holter’s amazing new album Ekstasis. Well, her debut album has also just been released on CD for the first time (previously it was available only on vinyl and in limited quantities). And you know what? It’s just as astonishing. Albeit somewhat less accessible.

It’s called Tragedy and is, at its heart, a concept album. I know I know. But bear with it. Holter’s concept is an “interpretation”of Euripides’ Hippolytus in so much as the structure of the album has an introduction, interlude and finale and uses a chorus. The lyrics are also taken from the play but, as Holter says, “positioned by an aural logic rather than in the chronological order”.

Frankly, the lyrical concept, whilst giving an interesting depth and context to the album, isn’t what’s important. It’s all about the landscapes that the work conjures and how it leads your thoughts through the world that contains them – whether they be inspired by a long-dead playwright or your own meandering experience.

The first track is a deeply atmospheric collage of sounds cut through by the unsettling blast of a foghorn. The second track descends into a bit of a racket, indeed were you to go straight to this track you might immediately wonder what’s going on and dismiss it all rather out of hand. Now I’ve said it you may well click straight there on the stream embedded below – but the point is that this is a work that needs to be listened to “whole”. It’s the structure of the concept of the album that’s important here. As it is with her other work, Ekstasis. It’s all about the journey.

Rather than talk about each track I’ll quote a a great review (on the FACT website) that said that this is, “a brilliant fucking planet of an album”. And it really is. It’s also music that demands to be listened to. Actively listened to. It’s a work that eschews the playlist and the shuffle and it’s a far richer and more sophisticated experience for it. Hear for yourself

You can buy a copy at Rough Trade: here

Ekstasis – Julia Holter

Ecstasy,(or ekstasis) from the Ancient Greek έκ-στασις (ek-stasis), “to be or stand outside oneself, a removal to elsewhere (from ek-: out, and stasis: a stand, or a standoff of forces).” It is used in philosophy usually to mean outside-of-itself.

If ever a piece of music could be said to transport you to somewhere outside of yourself or indeed itself then this is it. It’s a remarkable work of art by musician Julia Holter. Complex, nuanced and beautifully crafted – this is music that rewards on a multitude of levels. I’m almost loath to include tracks in isolation here as they simply won’t do justice to what an immersive and richly rewarding experience it is to listen to the album in its entirety. Her vocal whoops and ticks can sound slightly misplaced and mannered when listening to a single track through the tinny speakers of a computer. But as a complete work of art this really is an astonishingly good album.

But what type of music is it? Well, it’s hard to define – you could say it’s ambient but that would be to denigrate it somewhat.  It’s accessible, it’s melodic and its beautiful. But also wonderfully strange. And you can tell by her rich, polyphonic vocal harmonies that Holter is classically trained. What’s important is that those harmonies, the tonal shifts she employs and the sheer joy of melody sink their hooks into your mind, transporting you to somewhere – outside yourself.

It’s that good.

Here’s a taster:

Rough Trade has an exclusive 2-cd set and it’s well worth buying: