In my review of Julianna Barwick’s A Magic Place for the now sadly gone The Silent Ballet (a moment of silence, please), I concluded with a rather misinformed opinion on female vocalists and how there are very few of them that really do it for me. From that point on it seemed like the universe decided to perpetually prove me wrong; albums by Grouper, Fovea Hex, Sleepingdog and Devics all fell into my path in quick succession and in a matter of mere weeks I was almost fully converted, all previous opinions disappearing in the distance. Now with the release of Julia Holter’s second full length, the final nail in the coffin of my misconceptions has been drilled, and quite forcefully so.
Ekstasis is everything anyone would want from an album; it really is. It’s a complete work of art in every way possible. The music flows beautifully, it’s never dull and encompasses a huge range of sounds and influences without ever sounding all over the place or too over the top. Holter knows she has a wonderful voice and she utilizes it to the fullest, sending it to higher registers when a more upbeat sound is desired and going low (extremely low at times) in the more mournful, contemplative tracks of which “Boy in the Moon” would be a perfect example.
While being an electronic album at heart, acoustic instrumentation do make minute appearances every now and then only to disappear in their digital surroundings. That said, their appearance adds a lot of flavor to the songs. The upright bass in the beginning of “Für Felix” for example retracts from being the main focus at the song’s beginning to move out of focus behind all the whistles and whirling synths while the piano line in the title track makes the broken vocal line on top of them sound less awkward, but once awkwardness becomes the norm, the rest of the instruments come in to join and the piano is deemed to disappearance. It is these subtle nuances that make Ekstasis as triumphant as it is.
While the music and instrumentation seem scattered among many different genres, one thing binds the album from start to finish and that is the lyrics. Most songs focus on one aspect, yet from different points of view, that being nostalgia (or at least a very close approximation to it). One gets a sense of the protagonist’s craving for something that’s been lost yet forcefully trying to detach herself from its memories, bittersweet, contradicting and unable to erase them. Reflecting upon favorable events yet retracting to see the darkness behind them; it is enthralling and keeps the listener hooked throughout to see how it all ends.
When it ends, it ends with assertion, with an announcement, she puts her foot down and in turn we as listeners achieve closure and have nothing left to do but press the play button and go through it all over again. It is an album that warrants a multitude of listens and never seems to get old or boring, a veritable highlight of the year and that seems to be quite capable of withstanding the test of time. In her sophomore album, Julia Holter has struck the ball right out of the park, absolutely fantastic! (Mohammed Ashraf)