If Julia Holter wanted to craft an epic romantic drama, there’s one less thing that she has to worry about: the soundtrack. Her new album, the follow-up to last year’s Ekstasis, is exactly the kind of score you’d expect from a film adaptation of a Greek legend about star-crossed lovers.
In the album’s melancholy opener, “World,” Holter is tousled in an air of mystery as she mouths lines that could double as a herald of forbidden love. “Are you looking for anything?/Heaven, with eyes bright green/Every day my eyes are older/I grow a bit closer to you,” she sings almost inaudibly. Then there’s “He’s Running Through My Eyes,” which has Holter recounting an imminent heartache with dreamy, operatic harmonies. Like the other tracks on the album, it showcases the strides she’s taken in making baroque-styled pop fresh and digestible. Romeo and Juliet are re-imagined here—Dido and Aeneas too. Drawing visuals from romantic tragedies is almost inevitable in light of the dramatic touches and theatrical arrangements that weave the album together. Because of that, you might say that Loud City Song is like the soundtrack to a movie that never was.
Interestingly, Loud City Song’s “Maxim’s I” and “Maxim’s II,” were inspired by the dinner scene in the 1958 musical film Gigi. In the scene, Gaston, a rich playboy and Gigi, his mistress, arrive together at the famous French restaurant Maxim’s, only to be greeted by gossip and stares from its wealthy patrons. Holter, who studied classical composition at CalArts, mirrors the cattiness in both “Maxims” by using cinematic fixings like musty horns, ringing cymbals and aching violins, along with random shutters of whispers and laughter. Together the tracks reflect the conspicuous red-light-green-light, stop-and-pause movements of the lovers walking past the restaurant’s guests. The paranoia is intensified in the percussion-drenched track, “Horns Surrounding Me,” where Holter mumbles “chasing after me,” before throbbing strings, horns and drums corner her in an alley of thunderous sounds. The song recalls the defiant aura of Pat Benatar’s “Love Is A Battlefield.”
But that’s not the only comparison to be drawn from Loud City Song. The beginning of “In The Green Wild” is familiar too; even though it doesn’t fare as well as “Horns Surrounding Me.” Its whimsical initiation sounds like a Regina Spektor cast-off that’s far too quirky to be taken seriously. But then, nearly two minutes in, “In the Green Wild” morphs into irrefutable magic. Like a delayed reaction to a joke, it suddenly becomes one of the most unforgettable tracks on the album next to the sizzling “This Is A True Heart.” You’ll find yourself either tapping your foot, bobbing your head or snapping your fingers to its bossa nova-peppered pinches, but you definitely won’t be standing still.
Loud City Song‘s ambitious, intimate closer “City Appearing,” however, suggests that Holter wants us to stand still—at least for a moment—which feels like an impractical request given the theme of fast-paced cities driven by loud, bright things. If the sound of the seven-minute track wasn’t indicative enough, the writing is on the wall with lyrics like, “Through the city, all the phones are ringing/even the regular customers have left early tonight.” It’s a slight dig at our compulsions; a delicate form of social commentary, even. But while the customers may have left early, that doesn’t mean that they’ve gone home to ruminate. They’ve merely moved on to their next debauchery, which is probably the real tragedy. Paradoxically, it’s that sonic gluttony that makes Holter’s production an alluring tryst that’s hard to let go of come curtain call.