With 2011’s Tragedy Julia Holter garnered critical praise not often bestowed upon artists whose entire output consists of several cd-rs and cassettes released on tiny boutique labels, but for good reason. The work contained therein showed an artist coming out of the gate hot. The field recordings and drones included on this proper debut served as a protective barrier against the grubby hands of the masses, but on this new record such barriers are dropped, lending the beauty of Holter’s work the accessibility that Tragedy lacked.

That’s not to say that Tragedy was a difficult record, its widespread critical acceptance mirrored that of other ambient artists like Emeralds and Tim Hecker that have seen increases in popularity in the past several years, but there were moments that suggested a more catchy accessible side to Holter that ambient musicians rarely delve into. On Ekstasis that side is indulged even further and to great effect. From the opener ‘Marienbad’, its clear that this record will be a lot more palatable. Instead of the opening drones and operatic vocals of Tragedy‘s ‘Introduction’, we’re treated to a capella harmonies more in line with the classical influenced line of indie that we’ve come to accept in a post-Sufjan world.

Though some may interpret a move from abstraction to a more hooky style as representative of a softening of the aesthetic that made Holter so interesting initially, it’s obvious that she isn’t too concerned about maintaining her street cred. Instead she has focused her time making about the most beautiful record possible. Indulging, as mentioned, on the segments of Tragedy that more represented popular song structures, Holter has constructed an album that while still challenging on an intellectual level is friendlier to the listener. Tragedy was a record content to whisper to you from across the room, but Ekstasis calls you closer. The programmed beats and keyboard lines of ‘In The Same Room’ are representative of this new style. It’s a more welcoming album, one that illustrates that unlike most artists tagged with the ambient label, Holter isn’t merely seeking to make background music. This is an album that deserves undivided attention, if not for the aspects of Tragedy that carried through (Holter’s voice, the ambling moments that lead from song to song) than for this new found focus on constructing songs rather than extended pieces.

With the exception of perhaps ‘Boy In The Moon’, this is an album that seeks to wipe the haze away. What Holter has made here is a statement on her songwriting ability. If Tragedy was a triumph of composition first and foremost, then Ekstasis is a triumph of Holter’s songwriting voice. Though present in moments of previous work, this new found focus is found here in spades. Whether the pattering drums of ‘Moni Mon Amie’ or in the sparse closer ‘This Is Ekstasis’, Holter has proved that she’s not just into soundscapes that feature her voice. These are songs, and with this album, Holter has proved that she’s a more than capable writer. It’s an album that shows a mentality shift rather than a stylistic one, but it's a shift that has taken a good artist and made her great.