Aviary, Julia Holter’s fifth studio album and an experimental 90 minute opus, is a lot to unpack. Holter is, in the author’s opinion, one of the top five artists of the decade and has put out four excellent records since 2011, her last two being absolute masterpieces. Aviary keeps with her streak of excellence, while also being excellent in a very different way from her past work. Aviary is dense. It is not for a first-time listener of Holter, nor is it the lush chamber pop Holter has thrived in the past. Rather, it is an ever-changing, long body of peaks and valleys, some of which provide clear melody and tranquillity, such as the gorgeous ‘I Would Rather See’ but much more often are bodies of confusion and anger.
It seems like a very different world now than in 2015 when Holter released the absolutely gorgeous and peaceful Have You In My Wilderness and this change is reflected on Aviary. It immediately launches into experimental hysteria, and while it breaks at times, these anxious rhythms and maximalist horns and percussions remain throughout the album. It is a notable reflection of modern life and a true work of art in this sense. She also breaks this musical world down, completely changing patterns and themes in the middle of songs, sometimes cutting to studio chatter, or in the case of ‘Everyday Is An Emergency’ opening with minutes of building noise just to dissipate into lush melodies.
That’s not to say the record is not without some fault. While its length makes it a bolder statement, at times there is just too much going on, with practically every song reaching into the six minute mark. It is also actively difficult to finish in one sitting. However, while there may be fewer songs to truly love than her other releases, Aviary is true artistic expression and while it’s a challenge to work through, it’s very rewarding as with each listen one gains more understanding. Julia Holter is not a one-trick wonder and for as complex as Aviary is, it’s one of the most interesting albums released this year. Holter will perform at Summerhall, Edinburgh on 10 December 2018.
Image Credit: Leonard Nevarez via wikimedia Commons