Julia Holter, Ekstasis

Matt Sullivan

Julia Holter, Ekstasis [RVNG]

When discussing Julia Holter's music, the following things almost always get mentioned: classical music, intelligence, caution, grace, attention to detail, composing, Laurie Anderson, et cetera. Considering Holter is a classically trained pianist who graduated from music school, it's totally fair to end up on that track. At a certain point, however, it becomes dismissive and distracting; devolved to the most groan-inducing coffee shop eavesdropping. She's probably used to it by now after Tragedy came out and Hippolytus always came up, even if all its mention meant was a brief wikipedia search. It's most likely harmless, but I think it's a shame that a record as bold and beautiful as Ekstasis has to be bogged down with such boring vocabulary and stuffy pretensions; though immaculately constructed, this is a record, when bitter or sweet, that demands raw responses in an intuitive way.

Julia's portrayal in the music video for “Moni Mon Amie,” says a lot about the record at large. Trapped behind the desk, stuck on the phone, is the smart person in class who got bored in class and doodled out their daydreams — bright, but for whatever of a million believable reasons she's trapped behind the desk with a starved imagination. Watching her notice beauty emerge from the mundane, the routine — architecture made of office pencils, secretaries-turned-ballerinas, and fishbowl fishes illuminated like gems — made it impossible for me to separate the character's tendencies from the real Holter's intentions of finding elusive sweet spots. Within the three staggering opening pieces, “Marienbad,” “Our Sorrows,” and “In the Same Room,” her adventurous arrangements electrify the conservatory into an electronic pop playground; by the time you reach the back end in “Goddess Eyes,” “Four Gardens,” and “This is Ekstasis,” she's letting loose and vamping ambitiously in worlds more in common with psychedelic rock and jazz. Amongst a scene rife with internet-fueled eclecticism, Holter's perfected an even more sophisticated form of sampling: orchestrating happy marriages between musical odd couples from scratch.

Despite how radical — in the literal sense — that sounds, you wouldn't really notice because Ekstasis is made for enjoyment first and consideration after. You don't have time to think about this album's construction when constantly confronted with her gift for melody and pacing. Good luck getting the “ah-ah-ahhhh”s within the first minute of “In the Same Room” out of your head, or forgetting about the first time you heard the same track caved into an floating, messy beauty of a coda a mere few minutes in. It's a little stupid to say this given that his career is still very much alive, but Julia Holter is, in a way, a fitting successor to Sufjan Stevens: a great manager of music in the sense that their capabilities to orchestrate and arrange aren't at all thwarted by ambitious subject matter or instrumentation. And, much like the time she's rising in, includes a sonic palette more friendly to synthesizers and a conception point in the bedroom (ha!).

But in what way are my occasionally straight-dubious comparisons (I even had a bizarre LDR metaphor but scrapped it) objectively any better than the ones I took issue with just a couple measly paragraphs ago? Not much, really. I've had this doozy of an album for a long while, had the luxury of writing about it three weeks after it came out, and after all of that I still haven't “figured it out.” I'd be surprised if I did any time soon and quite pleased if I never did — no one should have to, and it won't be forgotten anytime soon. Ekstasis is an essential release and a monument to its own fitting title. It can be difficult to pull yourself away from the minutiae and mythology, but the more you learn to avoid looking for how ecstasy should be studied, you submit to how it should be felt.

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