Julia Holter


Julia Holter is incredible. The LA-based musician is just 33 years of age, and she released her fifth (5th!) astonishing album Aviary to much acclaim last month, a 90 minute magnum opus that dazzles with its range of styles from atonal experimental noise to some of the best pop songs she’s composed so far. Its a knotty, intense album that demands your attention and it’s remarkable how much she’s done in so little time, and the critical consensus that follows her is testament to the ongoing quality of her work. She’s here in Gorilla this evening to treat us to her brilliant baroque art pop, and to be honest I don’t quite know what to expect from it.

She comes on stage alone, positioning herself in front of a piano and music stand stacked with papers, and starts the beautiful ‘In Garden’s Muteness’, a lengthy solo piano piece where her incredible voice soars above us, bouncing off Gorilla’s corrugated iron roof, filling the room with sonorous beauty. It’s impossible to take your eyes off her, she’s a beguiling performer and I’m fully transfixed as she hammers out single piano notes over and over, inflecting vocals with no meaning or words that enchant and lull you into her world. Her band quickly join her, a violinist, double bassist, trumpet player and, somewhat disconcertingly, a fucking bagpipe player, who all accompany her on the joyous ‘I Shall Love 1’, Holter punching the air as she repeats “I shall love!” over and over, above a cacophony of brass, strings and pipes, the smile on her face heartening.

‘Whether’ is nearly krautrock, reminding me of Jane Weaver at her most experimental. In fact, Holter evokes so many artists tonight, from Bjork to Kate Bush to Grouper to Joanna Newsom, but sounds nothing like any of them, standing on her own as a very singular (and very amazing) talent. Take ‘Voce Simul’, which sounds like nothing I’ve heard all year, but is absolutely captivating, almost a whole suite of music within 6 minutes, it’s restless in its endless invention. We get a couple of tracks from her ‘pop’ record from 2015, Have You In My Wilderness, and ‘Sea Calls You Home’ is still ridiculously brilliant, as is the harpsichord lead ‘Feel You’, both of which get ecstatic receptions from the packed out crowd.

Her in between song chat is brief and endearing, repeatedly fascinated that the venue is called Gorilla, and struggling to remember where she last played in Manchester (“oh yeah, the cathedral, duh!”), as well as charming us by telling us how well Mancunians know their music (she’s right, of course). She looks to be having such a great time, at points lost in her own world, at others smiling so broadly at the wondrous noise she’s creating, almost as in disbelief at her own talent. ‘I Shall Love 2’, the ‘single’ from Aviary that sounds massive here and brings the gig to a celebratory end. I’m still not quite sure what I’ve seen this evening, it’s been enchanting and beguiling, and what I thought might be easier to admire than to love was actually really engaging and warm, and yes, easy to love. She’s an unbelievably talented artist, and I’ll be there along the way whatever she does next – it’s bound to be astonishing.

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