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Aural Pleasure Review

Julia Holter: 'Ekstasis'

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On last year's Tragedy, Julia Holter struck an impeccable balance between the abstract and the accessible. Tragedy buried Holter's melodies in a static haze of field recordings and synths, but her gorgeous voice and unique harmonic sensibilities created an arrestingly intimate and frequently gorgeous atmosphere throughout. On Ekstasis, Holter has largely abandoned the musique concrete-meets-pop song aesthetic of Tragedy and instead crafted a lovely record of art pop. The newfound clarity of Ekstasis is apparent from the opening bars of "Marienbad," which sounds a bit like Meredith Monk fronting a more adventurous Beach House. However, any fears of Holter losing her more experimental tendencies will quickly fade during the droning coda of "Our Sorrows." Holter's ability to effortlessly subvert traditional songcraft while sounding grounded is fully on display throughout the stunningly beautiful first half. As the album progresses it becomes stranger and funkier. Two variations on "Goddess Eyes" (originally from Tragedy) appear and prove to be surprisingly effective. Closer "This is Ekstasis" is a mesmerizing nine-minute suite that masterfully works its way in and out of textures and grooves. Ekstasis further establishes Holter as a compelling new artist willing to take rewarding chances.

★★★★ ½ (out of 5 stars)

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