The title of Julia Holter’s new album comes from a short story by Lebanese-American writer and visual artist Etel Adnan, which begins, “I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds.” Adnan once remarked that “painters are often great writers because they are not self-conscious.”
“I think that everyone is self-conscious sometimes,” Holter admits, but says that if she’s feeling that way she can’t create. “I focus on something else. I clean my room, which I don’t do very often; it’s a problem of mine.”
The LA-born producer/singer-songwriter’s new tracks are like stained glass panels moving in front of or behind one another; violin, voice, cello, double bass, percussion and harpsichord often seem as if they’re playing different themes, but then they’ll align and light shines through them all at once, revealing a scene just for a moment. They’re full of movement and life, and that is how Holter says she knows her writing is going in the right direction. “First of all, it takes perspective – like a day off – to come back to [a song] and assess whether I like it,” she says. “Secondly, if it feels like it’s going to have its own life, like it’s its own creature separate from myself – if I start to see things when I listen to it, not literally, but have some kind of synesthetic thing come to mind? That’s a sign to me that it’s alive in some way.”
One of the album’s stand-outs is I Shall Love 1, which you’ll have to work pretty hard against if you don’t want to sing along. “I was trying to make a mantra that repeats,” Holter explains of its charm. “There’s no story – I just wanted it to be an interesting rhythm… like a trance. It was simple, but a little bit asymmetrical. I was hoping to not make it annoying, but instead something kind of hypnotic. There’s a fine line between those things sometimes!”
Be sure to take a look at the official song lyrics, within which are clues to more thematic inspirations, but one such secret is right on the cover: an encoded phrase from the track Chaitus (a joyful, cascading piece with rhythms that sometimes sound like a sound tech testing the drums with a vibraslap). “I thought I wanted [the phrase on the cover] to be the album title, but I didn’t want a long title; I liked it as a motto for the record. I wanted the record to be welcoming, and somehow loving – it seems important to me. But also, facing the ugliness of the world. I guess that’s why I put it there. I also just like how the wingdings look.”
Aviary is out October 26 via Domino.
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