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:

Bon Iver at AIR Studios (4AD/Jagjaguwar Session)

This set, recorded at Air Studios by the band’s label, is Bon Iver stripped to the bare essentials:  two voices (Justin Vernon and his collaborator Sean Carey) and two grand pianos.  The result is 25-minutes of beautiful, fragile and gentle renditions of songs that have previously featured on Bon Iver’s albums and EPs. I found it absolutely captivating. I hope you do too.

For those with an eye on the detail, here’s the set list:
1. Hinnom, TX
2. Wash.
3. I Can’t Make You Love Me
4. Babys
5. Beth/Rest

Rachel Sermanni – Black Currents EP

This must be one of the most beautiful EP’s I’ve heard since Valentina’s gorgeous Weights EP was released last May.

Sermanni hails from the Highlands of Scotland, which immediately gives you an indication of what style her music will be. We’re talking folk of the most haunting kind here. Anticipation around her debut release (although this isn’t strictly speaking her debut as she put out a very limited cd last year on a small imprint) has been building for a while – albeit under the mainstream radar.

Black Currents holds just four songs but each one is perfectly balanced and her voice is almost heartbreakingly lovely. It’s one of those records you put on, lie back, completely lose yourself in and don’t want to end.

Here is one of the tracks and a link to buy the EP is below…

Buy it from Rough Trade: here 

Bonobo – Black Sands Remixed

Simon Green (aka Bonobo) released an album in 2010 called Black Sands; it was a magnificent piece of work and widely acclaimed. Trip hop at its finest. It was inevitable then that a remix album would follow. And here it is. And it is a truly superb album. Anyone with even the remotest interest in multi-layered, hugely atmospheric soundscapes has got to get their hands on this.  It’s trip hop and dubstep all mixed and mashed with some wonderfully jazz/electro moments – the whole kit and caboodle of electronic music.

There are several standout tracks by some seriously talented producers here. Google the album and you’ll find some good, solid reviews. For me, the tracks that immediately lift this album far and above the parapets of its peers are these:

The album is out on Monday. And you can grab a copy here

Leo Zero – Acid Life

Well, the Leo Zero tracks are coming thick and fast this week. But then his debut album came out this week and it’s a belter. So here it is, well a couple of  the standout tracks from it. It’s a Friday night after all. Ready? Let’s go…


Grab it and the exclusive promo disc from Rough Trade here

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

So this week saw the release of Lana Del Rey’s debut album.  The haters continue to hate but frankly it’s a brilliant album. And here’s the bonkers video for the title song Born to Die. It’s ludicrously brilliant and very kitsch. But I think that might be the point. Buy the album – she’s definitely earned the moniker of a “Gangster Nancy Sinatra”. It’s a decadent slice of pop.

Buy it from amazon here

Birdy – Comforting Sounds

Jasmine Van den Bogaerde, known as Birdy, had a top 20 hit earlier this year with a wonderful cover version of Bon Iver’s Skinny Love. Last week she released her debut album and it’s absolutely gorgeous. All but one of the tracks are, like her earlier single, cover versions. It’s an exquisite set; her voice is incredibly evocative and, whilst it’s an overworn cliché (but there really is no other word to describe it better) deeply haunting.

There are two versions of the album (of course) and I really think you should seek out the deluxe edition. Because it has this string-drenched track of wonder that makes the extra effort in finding it well worth it. Go buy it, it’s beautiful music.

Sigur Rós – INNI has arrived

Goodness – it’s been ages since I last posted. No excuse other than that it’s been so very busy. So busy that my head has been a bit of a whirlwind of late and in the evenings I’ve been coming home and making starfish shapes on the sofa until it’s time to haul myself into sleep.

But not this evening. For today, Inni arrived. As some of you will know, Inni is the latest release from Sigur Rós. I blogged about it a month or so back. It’s their first live album and second live film (although the first film, Heima featured live footage with a few talking heads here and there). Inni, on the other hand, is a full on concert film. But one that is unlike any other – it is, quite simply, magnificent.  The director, Vincent Morisset, has created an intensely personal experience by removing almost all sense of place and any awareness of the crowd from the film. And the result is utterly breathtaking, indeed I’ve sat here with an almost ridiculous sense of wonder.  Music and images combine to create an extraordinarily emotional experience.
Apparently ‘Inni’ means ‘inside’ and, as you see and hear this mesmerising film, you understand why they’ve named it so because it really is as though you are being drawn into the music itself.

Ah – I could wax lyrical all night. You just need to watch it (preferably on a big screen and very loudly). Here’s a taste of what to expect…