Standing on the ground looking up

Words by Jude Rogers
Photography by Beau Grealy / Styling by Ashley Abercrombie

What makes a record, out of nowhere, truly connect with people? Is it in the machinations of a secret league of suits? The keyhole precision of a marketing strategy? A cleverly engineered combination of a voice, sound and style? Or is it something more intangible, more special, more magical?

Last winter, the record that rushed to the top of the best-of-the-year magazine polls wasn’t by a well-worn classic rock star, or the hottest new act. It was by a 31-year-old Los Angeles-born composer who’d been around for some time. Julia Holter had tickled the bellies of the experimental music press before, but never troubled the mainstream – although this wasn’t surprising, given her previous records’ inspirations: Euripides’ Hippolytus, the avant-garde writings of Virginia Woolf and Frank O’Hara and Colette’s novel, Gigi (plus the MGM musical version starring Leslie Caron and Maurice Chevalier). In pop, there’s alopbopaloobop, essentially, then there’s this.


The album that broke Holter’s career, rather oddly, wasn’t entirely new either. Some of its songs had been with her for years, lingering in her head and her keyboard-playing fingers, coming to life in new forms in her shows. Her fourth LP didn’t have an overarching concept like her other ones either, but it did have a new sensibility. It was shinier, poppier, sparkling with hooks, its vocals and instruments ringing out like bright bells. Its lyrics were still odd, its musicality still wilfully wayward. The difference was that everything had been burnished to a shimmer, and, God, did it shine.

Read more in Issue 2...