Listening to Julia Holter’s expansive, challenging new record, Aviary, feels like standing at the precipice of a cliff, and staring at the sprawl of wildlife below. It’s daunting, but the sheer, visceral thrill of it is like looking into another universe.
Aviary marks a new stylistic turn for the angel-voiced singer-songwriter, who sacrifices the pop accessibility of 2015’s Have You In My Wilderness for complex and ambitious arrangements that shift at her every whim.
On the propulsive, skipping “Whether,” blips and faraway moans of brass enter the soundscape as Holter’s voice stands around the chaos, a train of forward momentum. “Chaitius” and “Colligiere” envelop the sonic landscape in rich woodwinds, radiating an ethereal glow. “Everyday Is an Emergency” spends half its runtime in noisy, dissonant blares of sound, before wrapping itself around in a ghostly, ambient piano.
On “Les Jeux to You,” Holter explodes into ecstatic release, with booming drums and insistent keys behind her voice, before falling back to earth, serenaded by horns.
Of course, her pop instincts remain intact on songs like “I Shall Love 2,” where, growing from just some strings and a drum machine into pure bliss, the track ascends to the heavens above on a luscious bed of vocal melodies. On this song, as with the album, Julia Holter paints a cathartic and liberated world all her own.
Aviary is a sprawling, dense opus that moves listeners the core while placing Holter in a new echelon of sophisticated songwriters, musicians and singular talents.