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Julia Holter’s name has been gathering attention in the US underground since the early part of this decade through her musically adventurous but increasingly tuneful records. 2011’s Tragedy and last year’s Ekstasis both featured highly in this scribe’s favourite records of those respective years, and now, at long last, she comes to Brighton promoting her first release on Domino, Loud City Song.
If the first two albums took some time to reveal their understated charm, perhaps as a result of their creation as isolated self-recordings, Loud City Song, befitting her increased stature, is her first album to be created with fellow musicians and a producer in a “proper” recording studio. Holter could hardly have stopped for breath though, with the spooky and sparse instrumentation taking a mere six days to record. The music has the somnambulant feel of a romance movie soundtrack; an XX-like focus on space and repetition combined with the obfusque beauty of a Grouper record. This creates pressure on Holter’s increasingly confident vocals to keep the songs from being mood pieces, a task which she proves more than capable of with her off kilter yet strangely memorable melodies.
Holter comes along at a time when there are a batch of talented young US females who, having learnt their craft in the fertile underground, are just beginning to emerge into the light to spread their wings – Laurel Halo, Zola Jesus, Julianna Barwick, Peaking Lights, Grouper, EMA. It’s not a “scene” per se but more a collection of individuals with a shared love of sound and an increasing development of songwriting that comes from experience. Holter may well be the best placed to make a breakthrough with her impressive label support and the Tom Waits-esque chamber music charm of songs such as ‘In The Green Wild’ or the relaxed Stereolab feel of ‘This Is A True Heart’.
Promoter Be Nothing continues to go from strength to strength in its nearly two-and-a-half years’ of existence being quite obviously run by rabid fans booking the bands that they themselves want to see. Their hit rate has been excellent, promoting gigs from artists as varied as Mac DeMarco, Wolf People, The Besnard Lakes and R Stevie Moore in recent times. It is clear from their Facebook page they have especially high hopes for this night and are proud of the booking, sentiments that I share completely.
‘Try To Make Yourself a Work of Art’ is a track name from her creative but ever so slightly primitive debut album Tragedy but it may as well be Julia Holter’s manifesto. Throughout both 2012’s wonderfully accomplished but slightly clinical sounding Ekstasis and this year’s warm, constantly rewarding, modern classic, Loud City Song, her focus has remained steadfast on stimulating the senses in both an intelligent and instinctive way. The Komedia was lent an intimate feel by the jazz club seating arrangement and the hyperactive smoke machine, making it absolutely perfect for the occasion. Make no mistake Julia Holter’s long awaited Brighton debut must rank among the finest concerts in the city this year.
The focus, quite rightly, was heavy on the Domino released Loud City Song. A decision to open with the complex, vocally challenging, yet hook-filled chamber pop charm of album highlight ‘In The Green Wild’ was potentially brave. However, in Holter’s hands it was an opportunity to showcase the brilliance of her band – violin, cello, saxophone and intricate percussion – as well as her own versatile, yet constantly fantastic vocals and accompanying keys. Her stage presence immediately put the room at complete ease. Holter’s thought-provoking, intellectually satisfying but potentially heavy subject matter was lent an air of lightness by her playful, modest, yet ultimately confident demeanor. An achievement considering 2011’s Tragedy references an ancient Greek play whilst the new album uses a post-war French film and novel for inspiration.
Hers is a well-placed confidence, as overall her performance is beyond reproach. This was evidenced by the powerful yet controlled vocals on slow burning but attention-grabbing album closer ‘City Appearing’ as it was by the encore of first album highlight ‘Goddess Eyes’. The later’s beautiful, progressive vocal melody and linear structure was both one of the night’s most memorable songs and a suitably fitting finale. Both the above tracks juxtapose wonderfully with her more complex arrangements such as the urgent and cinematic ‘Horns Surrounding Me’. She was equally at ease telling the story behind the lyrics of ‘Goddess Eyes’ as she was bizarrely but endearingly comparing Brighton’s beach with LA’s. Dichotomies are clearly important to her, referenced by the constant battle of pop and art in her songs, keeping them frequently at the tantalising point of boiling over both emotionally and intellectually. The standout track from Ekstasis, ‘Marienbad’. is the highlight of an exceptional concert, the multi-part song was performed perfectly and in a way that immediately brought to mind legendary, cerebral and trailblazing female musicians such as Laurie Anderson or Kate Bush.
I suspect supporting Holter on this tour will be a double edged sword for Lucretia Dalt. The opportunity to perform in front of a respectful, knowledgeable crowd is undoubtedly a good opportunity for her and there are some stylistic similarities between the two. Both are clearly multi-instrumental songwriters from a bedroom pop tradition. Unfortunately, the best support act couldn’t have looked great or been particularly memorable up against an artist on this form. Bar a few moments of excitement, Dalt’s impeccably observed set falls decidedly flat.
Be Nothing is a promotions duo consisting of Joe and Carin. We don’t discriminate with genre, almost anything goes. We love the shows that we do and put pretty much all we have into them, so we hope you enjoy them too.
Previous guests include:
Kohwi / Fishing / Guerre / Outfit / Gross Magic / Sun Glitters / Regal Safari / Com Truise / Teengirl Fantasy / La Femme / S.C.U.M / Bo Ningen / Lovepark / High Places / Anneka / Halls / Tourist / Girls Names / Splashh / Walls / Jacuzzi Boys / Keel Her / Shudder Pulps / Holy Other / Vessel / Deep Time / Birdskulls / Balam Acab / Deptford Goth / Adolescent / Paws / TOPS / Mac DeMarco / Fear Of Men / Ital / Nathan Fake / Ghosting Season / Chris Cohen / Hundredth Anniversary / Joey Fourrv / Boneyards / Meddicine