“Tragedy Finale” — Julia Holter
I’m not sure where I’m going to go with this post, but that seems appropriate because you never seem to know where you’re going while listening to Julia Holter’s Tragedy. No matter how many times I listen to it, I always seem to find new sounds that are buried beneath the intricate melodies and sound combinations. Tragedy is based of the Ancient Greek play Hippolytus by Euripides, so it seems rather natural that a concept grounded in a rich tradition is so richly executed.
Even if you just let yourself wade through Tragedy’s 50 minutes, you will at least be startled by the moods it creates. “Introduction” sounds like something that belongs on an album based on a tragic play, but the rest of the album’s texture will surprise you. My favorite moment comes at it’s finale, where the song sounds like a wedding hymn despite concluding the collapse and death of a family during the previous seven songs. And I think that’s what’s important here—Holter engages and exploits the tragedy tradition with her album, and she reclaims the ancient myth with her own beliefs and aesthetic.
This may be the ending for Hippolytus and his step-mother Phaedra, but “Tragedy Finale” seems to suggest a peacefulness and freedom in death. Holter’s voice sounds angelic as she layers her vocals against strings and horns. The most beautiful moment comes during the last minute and a half of the song when a distinct male voice enters, briefly muttering statements regarding “death” and “exaltation” while Holter’s layered voice waves in the background. We can assume that this point of the album is depicting Hippolytus dying as he forgives his father for falsely accusing him for the murder of his wife. And that’s how the album ends—a notion of forgiveness.
As the voices start to fade out, we hear one distinct Holter repeating the word,”exaltation.” This is a tragedy and Hippolytus is dying here, but this is tragic only in the tradition of the art form. Holter takes Hippolytus’ death and turns it into something beautiful—someone dying at peace, forgiving those who wronged him, and exiting with an exalted state of being. I’m overwhelmed as I hear Holter repeat “exaltation,” until she says it for the last time and never finishes the word. The album ends with a “shh” sound, and I am with Hippolytus—at peace, at ease, and everything but tragic.