There’s a sonic narrative to Julia Holter’s set that reflects the arc of her third album, the breakthrough Loud City Song.
An impressionistic response to 1958 MGM musical Gigi, it has an erudite aesthetic that’s not obvious from the LA songwriter’s sweetly girlish between song banter. Struggling to kill time when her four-piece band tunes up, she reflects on church organs and the venue’s woodwork.
It’s an awkwardness that’s immediately lost when the band starts to perform tracks that detail universal themes. Tragic, astute and full of classical references the material makes the listener work hard but pays rich rewards for persistence.
The opening clutch of songs - ‘In The Green Wild’ and ‘Maxim’s I’ - seem to deliberately test the audience’s tolerance for electro-jazz. A slightly dissonant mix of Corey Fogel’s brushed drumming and strings that scrape in a manner that’s only just musical, Holter’s siren-high voice struggles to be heard over the top.
As the set progresses, however, the tone lightens and becomes more inviting. On the inverted lounge-pop carousel of ‘This Is A True Heart’, for instance, Danny Myer’s saxophone heralds a late 1970s club though which Bryan Ferry might drift. The atmospheric, filmic ‘City Appearing’, meanwhile, has a slow build that provides a bed for Holter’s voice as it pitches between a Julee Cruise-style croon and Kate Bush sigh.
Her transformation into an unpretentious, art-pop siren who eats musicals for lunch is completed with her chill-out cover of Barbara Lewis’ ‘Hello Stranger’ and one-track encore of the Laurie Anderson-esque ‘Goddess Eyes’, on which she duets her vocoded voice with that of Fogel to superbly alienated effect.
It’s a disconcerting track that remains with the listener long after they leave the venue, and it’s this intellectual earworm quality that means Holter is an act to truly cherish.
Gig date: November 14