Julia Holter at Schubas: photos and review
There's an erudite quality to Julia Holter's meticulously arranged chamber-pop that extends to the subject matter that populates her songs. The CalArts composition program graduate based her first album, Tragedy, on the the ancient Greek play Hippolytus. Her latest record, Loud City Song, was partially inspired by Gigi, a French novella published in 1944. Luckily, Holter's serpentine art-pop remains accessible, even if you're not a Francophile with a penchant for Greek tragedies.
Touring behind her newest record—the first she has recorded in a studio with a group of collaborators—Holter was accompanied by a four-piece band that included a saxophonist and violinist. Smiling slyly from behind her keyboard, she lead the group through intricate compositions peppered with playful flourishes. At times, it seemed as if she was guiding the group with the rise and fall of her voice, allowing each syllable to dictate the staccato cadence of tracks like "Marienbed" and "In the Green Wind."
The latter half of the set indulged in the abstract, as the group made its way through some of Loud City Song's more expansive tracks. A sparse rendition of "City Appearing" was anchored by some Holter's more delicate vocal work, as her bandmates slowly built a subdued soundscape around her. Freeform sax solos transitioned into graceful violin interludes as the group concluded the evening with an extended version of "Maxim's II," building to a screeching, percussive close.
A heady mix of classical and modern styles, Holter's set possessed the structure of a great novel and the precise orchestration of a symphony. Combining avant-garde tendencies with a pop sensibility, she catered to indie music fans who appreciate her complex melodies as well as older, NPR-listeners that gravitate to the scholarly bent of her work. You have to do your homework if you want to fully appreciate the intricacies of Holter's lyricism, but even removed from its literary context, her unique approach to contemporary music is as captivating as it is unconventional.