In the last seconds of the string-laden, heavy-burdened "World," the opening track from Loud City Song, everything drops out except for a voice that sings with hopeless deflation, "How can I escape you?" Julia Holter has always had a flair for not only drama, but also the dramatic. She's loosely based albums on Greek tragedies and the classic New Wave French film Last Year at Marienbad. And on Loud City Song, due out August 20, Holter looks to the 1958 musical film Gigi for her third album in as many years.
Holter doesn't abandon her high-concept chamber-pop for sweeping Lerner-Loewe strings, but Loud City Song often plays out like a small-stage cabaret raised on washed-out '80s synths and Joni Mitchell. In fact, Mitchell's overlooked Mingus LP isn't a bad way to think about the rambunctiously fun "In the Green Wild," wherein a fast-walking cello line dances with wonky synths and Holter's playful speak-singing. Holter also flirts with industrial-pop in the dead-eyed four-on-the-floor of "Horns Surrounding Me," with "Maxim's II" taking it a wilder step further, layering sideways sax on a "Fat Mama Kick"-style bender.
At a recent show in Washington, D.C., Holter introduced a new song as being about "running away from something, but I don't want to tell you what... yet." Much of the evening felt that confessional, especially in the solo torch song "He's Running Through My Eyes." And that's when it clicked: You don't need encyclopedic knowledge of Holter's many inspirations to understand the deep, resonant themes like loneliness and society that run throughout her work. The glamorous title character in Gigi is merely a lens through which Holter explores our fascination with celebrity, but more so the ever-increasing noise that surrounds us alongside it, even as Holter makes a little herself.