Caught by the River

Julia Holter – Aviary

Cally Callomon | 24th January 2019

Cally Callomon takes in the strange beauty of most recent Julia Holter album Aviary.

Once upon a time, in the dark days of the late 1980s, when the long drawn-out fizz of acid house was our only hope, and the shop racks were a barren wasteland of mumblealong indie fodder, there came beacons of light from the USA in the shape of The Flaming Lips and (later) Mercury Rev, bands that said ‘yes it is okay to go off on one, and yes, Brian Wilson, at his most weird was restrained by comparison!’ and we saw this to be a good thing and all was well with the whirl.

Then take into account a list of other albums that puzzled our elders: Bitches Brew, Spirit Of Eden, Ohr, I Trawl The Megaherz, Lorca, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter – and we see that each came after a reputation built on neatly packaged song-based collections, and all these new offerings were met at the airport with bemused quizzical smiles. Many listeners abandoned hope thereafter (usually those who reviewed free promo copies), some followers stayed the course (those who paid money for the purchase), and lo they grew old and handed down the aforementioned to a younger, more open-minded generation as if tablets of stone.

I sense the same may be about to happen again here; Aviary seen as the difficult dozenth album – if anyone is counting. Julia Holter almost made it to Household Name status via her last few neat Domino-released albums, particularly the rightly fawned over predecessor to this, her new double-album. Ahem, do they make double albums these days? Certainly they do: this even has a stiff board gatefold sleeve, in case the two-disc set was not obvious enough.

Aviary forces us to use words such as Beguiled, Entranced and Mystified, and what three better words could describe any music? To coin a lyric from Nick Drake; Aviary is ‘darker than the deepest sea and weaker than the palest blue’. Yes; that good.

It’s easy to make those female-vocal comparisons but whilst one struggles with her co-ordinates, trying to work out just what planet this beauty came from, one may mistakenly bypass the comparisons with Tormato-era Yes or even (whispers) Olias Of Sunhillow, but it’s there, and it hits you when you hear her voice and imagine Jon Anderson’s instead.

Kate Bush let birds loose amongst her Aerial menagerie, and Holter accordingly states “I was inspired by medieval ideas of birds as a symbol of memory. Aviary is like birds flying around in your head…I was trying to evoke how everything is cacophonous in this world and the internal cacophony of one’s mind. The outside world is overwhelming so it’s a cathartic response.” Given this statement you may be inclined to expect the minimalist Rothko-like flatlands found in artists like Paul Schütze and the like, but no: one cacophony is answered by its own echo, plus added bagpipes, trumpets and more birdsong. Having lulled us into her catalogue of song that was the now-ironically titled Have You In My Wilderness she presents us with an even deeper thicket into which you’ll burrow never to emerge, if you’re lucky.

If you were waiting for Mark Hollis to follow up his debut album, if you were hoping Scott Walker returned to the order of Tilt, here they both are, only now under new management. My much older German cousin bought the first Faust album and gave it to me with the warning that ‘it was shit’. If you get Aviary and don’t get it, hand it down one generation, as the little ones will understand.


Aviary is out now on Domino. Listen/purchase here.