Aviary is an epic journey through what Julia Holter describes as “the cacophony of the mind in a melting world.” Out on October 26 via Domino, it’s the Los Angeles composer’s most breathtakingly expansive album yet, full of startling turns and dazzling instrumental arrangements. The followup to her critically acclaimed 2015 record, Have You in My Wilderness, it takes as its starting point a line from a 2009 short story by writer Etel Adnan: “I found myself in an aviary full of shrieking birds.” It’s a scenario that sounds straight out of a horror movie, but it’s also a pretty good metaphor for life in 2018, with its endless onslaught of political scandals, freakish natural disasters, and voices shouting their desires and resentments into the void.
On Aviary, we travel a world populated by birds, angels, and ghosts—at once characters in a mystery of uncertain denouement and a stand-in for the memories and thought-images that seem to fly through the mind on their own volition. Inklings of impending doom (“Everything Is an Emergency”) hover side-by-side with ecstatic professions of love (“Turn the Light On”) and moments of triumphant solidarity (“Voce Simul”). Like other recent projects—composing and performing a live score to Carl Theodor Dreyer’s The Passion of Joan of Arc, as well as arranging her album Tragedy for opera, in 2017—Aviary sees Holter juxtaposing ancient and contemporary reference points. Time collapses, with references to the deep past—Joan of Arc, the Christian Crusades, the mass hysteria of the dance of Saint Vitus—seeming to double as metaphors for our hopes and anxieties in the present. Jetting between medieval chamber music and proggy jazz-rock transports, plaintive balladry and android robotics, it’s a journey full of wild twists and turns—but it’s one that seems to cling to a sense of radical hope, even in its most somber moments.