Playing Julia Holter's Ekstasis back to back with La Sera's Sees the Light is a study in contrasts. And it's just what I needed. While Katy Goodman's record is pleasant, but unadventurous, Holter shoots for the fucking stars—and hits more often than she misses.
In fact, I'll submit that she doesn't miss at all, though some may find the work of this classically trained Los Angeles musician pretentious,* because she doesn't follow the usual punk-rock playbook, whereby an alternative artist denies or disguises years of training and experience (Holter is also a music instructor).
* She even titled a song after Alain Resnais' mindfuck masterpiece Last Year at Marienbad.
On the contrary, she lets it show, and it doesn't hurt that she has a gorgeous, supple voice. A few writers have also cited Laurie Anderson and Arthur Russell, possibly in regards to her cello and vocoder use, and I'm happy to join the chorus.
There's a lovely spookiness to the way she uses layers of echoes and sighs, though she never plunges full-bore into goth or hauntological territory. The effect is more ethereal, like a bare-bones Broadcast or folk-infused Cocteau Twins. Naturally, Julee Cruise, by way of David Lynch and Angelo Badalamenti, also comes to mind, in which case I propose Holter for a Twin Peaks sequel or remake.
But it isn't just about her voice. Her follow-up to 2011's Tragedy features Eno-esque instrumental interludes ("Boy in the Moon") and brass-saturated Ryuichi Sakamoto-meets-David Byrne moves ("Four Gardens"). Played mostly by herself, the tools of her trade include Casio SK-1 and Fender Rhodes. I haven't heard anything exactly like it before...and that doesn't happen often enough.
Ekstasis is out now on RVNG Intl. via double-LP, CD, and digital download.