Julia Holter studied composition at the California Institute of the Arts and grabbed the attention of a number of avant music-enthusiasts, including the ever-exploring Lars Gottrich of NPR Music, with her 2011 debut titled Tragedy.
Her latest album is Ekstasis and it’s a languidly unfolding work of beauty and meditation. Holter is a solo artist, and she uses a lot of familiar bedroom studio techniques such as harmonizing with herself, and layering and tweaking her sound palette into fully realized pieces, but all the while she still sounds very much alone.
Holter uses quiet so well, and there are moments that sound like a radio barely capturing the signal of an alien transmission.
Ekstasis is an ancient Greek word that means to stand outside oneself, and that philosophy seems apparent in how easily you can drift away with this music and a pair of headphones. Thick drones blanket these tracks while sparkling highs fall and evaporate over them.
There's a lot intellectually going on here for sure. The track "This is Ekstasis" was inspired by the poet Anne Carson, who Holter studied under. It's about a collection Carson published titled Decreation, which is the undoing of oneself.
But it’s not just lonely existential journeys along the exhales of sad saxophones; Holter clearly knows what a pop song sounds like, though the squishy midi-soaked poppier moments are not going to be mistaken for top-40 radio.
Perhaps the most pop move is also the most surprising: it's a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Gold Dust Woman.” It’s kind of a jarring way to end the album but it allows for a comforting finish, as a way to return to yourself and realize there is a world outside, and while Stevie Nicks may well have been in torment when she wrote this song, we always have things like creative expression and music to if not understand desolation, to find a way to connect with others through it.
Ekstasis is out now on Domino.