L.A. singer-songwriter and ambient pop weirdo Julia Holter has put out three albums since 2011. Each of those, including the latest, Loud City Song—her first proper studio release—has been an intense, conceptual study of a theme or work of art. This time around, she’s taken on a musical film adaption of “Gigi,” a story about a young Parisian courtesan that is one of the best-known works by the lusty, perceptive French novelist Colette. And as you might expect, the results are rather cinematic. Throughout the album, the music evokes shifting moods and colours, and Holter’s voice provides much of the dynamism. She can go from loopy, campy top lines (“This Is a True Heart”) to hushed and percussive (“In the Green Wild”) to layered and reedy (“Maxim’s II”)—often within the same song. Holter’s always been good at creating texture on disc, but recording outside of the bedroom and in the company of other musicians gives Loud City Song a real plushness that works well with her unusual, atmospheric take on pop. These highly detailed vignettes build drama with baleful trombones and echo-y percussion, chirrupy vocals, and rippling piano melodies, but Holter’s delivery is often somewhat aimless, particularly on the last song, “City Appearing.” This takes some of the edge off of what, in the hands of a less imaginative performer, could be an insufferably didactic record.
Playlist picks: “Maxim’s I,” “Horns Surrounding Me,” “City Appearing”