"There's a flavor to the sound of walking no one ever noticed before," Julia Holter sings at one point on her third album, Loud City Song, and if anyone could notice that, it would be her. Holter excels at bringing emotional depth to her high-concept music and never more so than on this set of songs, which feels as ambitious as Tragedy and Ekstasis, but more down to earth. This may be her most accessible work yet, perhaps because of its relatively contemporary setting: drawing from Colette's 1944 novella Gigi (as well as the 1958 musical film it inspired), Loud City Song explores the city, celebrity, the individual, and love in fin de siècle Paris and 21st century Los Angeles, blurring them together in ways that get at more universal truths. In Gigi's time or Holter's, there are people who love spectacle, celebrity, and gossip, and Holter examines this brilliantly in the two-part "Maxim's." Named for the famed Parisian restaurant, the first part fades in like a glittering mirage coming into view, and as she breathlessly wonders, "Into Maxim's we will see them walk/Will they eat a piece of cheese or will they talk?," Holter captures the banal curiosity of the celebrity-obsessed. "Maxim's II" goes a step further, with woozy brass sliding from old-school musical charm into free jazz chaos that implies Holter made good on her threat: "Say it to my face/If you want to be starting something." Even at its noisiest, Loud City Song sounds expensive; this is the first album Holter recorded in a professional studio (which is noteworthy, considering how sophisticated the home-recorded Tragedy and Ekstasis sounded). Gorgeously arranged strings, brass, and harpsichords grace songs like "World," which gently and poignantly introduces the claustrophobia that fully emerges on the stunning "Horns Surrounding Me," where hurried footsteps and insistent brass give the impression of a stylized hunt. The lavish surroundings also bring some of Holter's catchiest songs yet to life: rustling flutes add to "This Is a True Heart"'s bittersweet sophistication while a jaunty acoustic bass provides the backbone for the fascinating "In the Green Wild," which sounds like the perfect blend of Joni Mitchell and Laurie Anderson. Cerebral pleasures like these are balanced by emotional ones such as the torchy snippet "He's Running Through My Eyes" and an ethereally sensual cover of Barbara Lewis' "Hello Stranger" that slows everything down to bask in the beauty of Holter's voice, which is often overlooked given all the other things going on in her music. In that regard, this album is no exception; with all the intriguing details in the words and music, there's a lot to digest. Loud City Song is Holter's most polished work to date, and another example of how she upholds and redefines what it means to be an avant-garde singer/songwriter.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares