Ekstasis is by far the most fascinating album I’ve heard in recent months. It’s the second album by L.A. artist Julia Holter. Ekstasis has been labeled as anything from freak folk to ambient, minimal music, psych, drone, experimental, avant garde and so on. The sheer number of different labels rightly suggests that not one of them is accurate. Ekstasis is much more accessible than the reference to any of genres mentioned above would have you think. That having been said, I have to warn you that the structures of Holter’s songs generally have neither rhyme nor reason to them.
The basis of most of the songs on Ekstasis is constituted by fragments of dreamy, heavily layered vocals. The almost fairytale-like singing is combined with subtle electronics, some carefully arranged strings and pianos and the occasional beat. The result is equally inviting as it is alienating. Julia Holter does not adhere to the conventions of a good pop song and is constantly putting the unsuspecting listener on the wrong foot. Her music reminds me of
Julianna Barwick’s, but less sparse. There’s also echoes of Laurie Anderson on Ekstasis and even the depressing undertones of Nico can be heard, but Julia Holter is much more accessible than either of these three avant garde dames.
Appearances are deceptive; almost every song on Ekstasis is a collage of musical fragments that barely seem to hang together. Pieces of dreampop are interspersed with surprisingly poppy choruses supported by an infectious beat. Moments later Julia Holter treats us to ambient sounds, that even Brian Eno would label as ‘experimental. Generally I prefer dime-a-dozen pop songs over responsible artsy noise at any time, but the music of Julia Holter has disorienting effect on me. I’ve listened to Ekstasis many times now and I still haven’t found any solid ground within this wild sea of impressions. I can’t fully grasp Ekstasis, but I more and more enjoy the distinct sound created by Julia Holter.
Ekstasis can’t be categorized, it’s hard enough even to describe this masterpiece by Julia Holter. Ekstasis is like a mix between Rivella and Red Bull: strange but good and giving wings to those who dare to listen.
This review was adapted from de Krenten uit de Pop