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The best experimental record of the year was for me undoubtedly by These New Puritans. I urge anyone with a passing interest in late period Talk Talk, Scott Walker or David Sylvian to take a listen to their ‘Field of Reeds’ album. Its proven that despite my love of short snappy pop, I am still able to enjoy a ‘difficult’ record when its done well. But I’m not here to waffle on about them yet again, I’ve just read a three out of ten review of this new Julia Holter record in indie rag ‘Loud and Quiet’ describing the record as ‘painful’. I’m not sure if its the lowered expectations I now have but on the basis of the first few tracks here I’m finding it very hard to agree.
Opener ‘World’ starts almost wordlessly before building slowly into something a lot more palatable. ‘Maxim’s 1’ is built around a nice orchestral sample with Holter’s sweet voice delicately placing words on top. Its a tremendously enjoyable track, much more sweetly melodic than you think, given her ‘difficult’ reputation. ‘Horns’ surrounding me, does, believe it or not contain horns, but also pulsing bass and a stretched out approach to song-craft, its darkly enjoyable, somewhere betwixt ‘Tilt’ era Scott Walker and Zola Jesus. There are, however, elements of the ‘experimental theatre’ which left the Loud and Quiet reviewer in despair, the first section of ‘‘In the Green Wild’ is like early 80’s Laurie Anderson, the kind of music only enjoyed by people in New York loft apartments.
Luckily, some warm synths creep into the mix half-way through providing much needed soulfulness and from there the track starts to take flight. ‘Hello Stranger’ is worryingly close to Enya while ‘Maxim’s 2’ edgy paranoia is completely at odds with its earlier more tuneful counterpart. All in all its an album not half as difficult I was expecting, with moments of sweet clarity and some pretty lovely sections. ‘This Is a True Heart’ is almost like a splintered take on a Bacharach and David ballad - with a lovely haunting sax solo. Gorgeous.
The comparisons are fairly centred around Joanna Newsome, Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell but Julia Holter has a really singular vision, one which can sometimes irritate and sometimes falls flat but on this evidence is largely a bold, varied and at times breathtaking work.
5/10 Daniel John 20th August 2013
I simply loved 'Tragedy', and it is one of my favourite albums, but the albums that have followed it have been vastly inferior in my opinion. The magic just isn't there and I'm mystified by the positive coverage. Oh well eh.
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