When I heard Julia Holter’s “Horns Surrounding Me” on the radio (yes, I’m privileged enough to have a local indie station) a month or so ago, I felt sure I’d heard it before. That’s kind of strange, considering that song sounds like almost nothing else. The hook was brave, the song jarring and intense. It wasn’t just hinting at envelope-pushing like so much exciting new music, it was pushing with full force. The track is high point of tension Holter’s new album, Loud City Song, if tension is measured traditionally, with eerie note choices and discord. The rest of the record is... well, actually, it’s pretty difficult to make any kind of general statement about the rest of the record, except that it’s great. It’s riveting from start to finish, even if it starts slow and finishes with a formless 7 minute number. It’s defiant in form, but also classically excellent; there’s so much variation packed into this little bundle of sound, it feels like a feature film, with emotional highs and lows to boot.
In common parlance, Dream-Pop is a term plopped on to most music that’s slow and pretty. Loud City Song made that definition feel pretty suspect to me. Do you consistently dream about floating peacefully through the clouds? I can’t recall any dream I’ve ever had that was as coherent or carefully laced together as, say, a Beach House song. No, dreams are chaotic and ostensibly irrational. That’s their nature. They’re unreal. Surreal. If Dream-Pop should reflect that feeling (and why not, most other mediums have dream-related subgenres obsessed with the random), then this record is a glistening example of the style. Even on “Horns Surrounding Me,” you don’t feel like you’re in danger. You just feel ill at ease. Something is not quite right. Even as you fly over dark city streets in “City Appearing,” the gorgeous sights, the freedom, something about it all seems wrong, yet so captivating. Listen to this record.