Here’s some more comforting news for Taylor Swift: for art, for music in this case, there is not just one appropriate way to relate to this post-truth/pre-catastrophe, fascists-rising/democracy falling, rights endangered/freedoms limiting, coral dying/waters rising world.
You can, indeed you should, get angry, get shouty, get militant, get active. And we’ve had albums and songs to that effect, many of them very good too. But feeling despair or at least exasperation is understandable – at least as understandable as a kind of stoic belief we will emerge more or less intact.
Meanwhile, being confused by the swift descent into the raging fire and withdrawing; being scared by the range of options and the plausibility of excuses; quietly making a case for respect or a stand of defiance and saying we won’t be crushed again; or just going mad, must be understood as equally valid reactions.
How about though making a record reflecting all of these moods, all of these possible reactions, all of these states of being? In the one suite of songs. How would it be to show that maelstrom and that confusion, that tide of anger and that wash of despair, that madness and that calm?
Step forward Julia Holter and Aviary, a long, sprawling, multi-angled attempt to not so much impose order on what is happening as reflect and explore the disorder within and without us.
It ends with some notions of tempered beauty, albeit with discord sometimes barely beneath the surface (Words I Heard reaches out to something, to someone, and I Shall Love 1 leaves open the question that the gesture is reciprocated) and there are moments of elegance and maybe even comfort in this denouement, especially in the elegiac Why Sad Song.
But that isn’t even half the story of the album’s second half (In Garden’s Muteness is very uneasy inside its softness; I Would Rather See is a child among the legs of moving adults; and Les Jeux To You veers from overstimulated to sugar crash), let alone the album.
I mean, there’s a track here, Everyday Is An Emergency, which takes bagpipes to their zenith, or nadir – they are an acquired taste at the best of times – through stages of urban agitation and aggravation, until the song (the listener?) is all but spent. And that arrives halfway through the near eight minutes of this track.
The latter portion of the song is an extended sigh of release, but not relief. Nor is there relief exactly in Another Dream, which follows, adrift on a wash of wind and synthesisers and harp, as it feels touched by an indistinct curiosity or maybe confusion that eventually devolves into a darker, querulousness.
The Baroque explorations in the first half of Chaitius evolve into a blend of free jazz and loosely aligned psych folk, a shapelessness where appropriately enough scatterings of spoken and then sound-forming vocals break away like a wander into the open fields. That wandering doesn’t end as much as get lost in the tall grass.
That Voce Simul emerges from Chaitius makes sense if you picture someone emerging from that tall grass to people who had no idea where she had come from. It is essentially a voice in a kind of aural maze of space and saxophone which begins to accumulate companions, like harp and synths, eventually stacks of Glassian vocals like swooping magpies, and then moves through an eerie passage which dissolves into the shadows.
If Underneath The Moon, which comes at you with art pop certainty (clarinet and pulsing bass, timpani and snaking rhythms) and Whether (square rhythm, Dr Mabuse-like declarative singing and, at a tick under three minutes, the shortest song on the record) feel ultra-conventional by comparison, it’s a reminder that in modern living the new normal is actually the weird rewired if you can step outside it and look objectively.
For here’s the opening orchestral rumbling/fancy tuning up of Turn The Light On – picture the early stages of the climax to A Day In A Life with Bjork piped in from another song and bringing her own climactic shudder – and the Nico and the Velvet Underground underpinnings of I Shall Love 2, which works as an act of defiance in its positivity, as if working to convince itself as much as us. This is not how we probably pictured ourselves being,
Does it make sense? What does that even mean in this context? It is not cohesive, stylistically, structurally or narratively, in a way we have come to expect. It doesn’t try to be. You think what’s happening around us, to us, makes sense?