Julia Holter is known just as much for her experimentation as she is for her work ethic; while Loud City Song is her first proper studio album, it's her third release in as many years. She's found a new home, moving to Domino from RVNG, and she's found a new sense of focus. While her new record is every bit as ambitious as 2011 debut Tragedy and last year's excellent Ekstasis, it sometimes finds her moving in a more accessible direction, and this marriage of more conventional melodies - such as on the gorgeous 'Maxim's I' - with her usual nuanced songwriting and beautiful arrangements - opener 'World' is a thing of wonder, Holter's voice engaged in dialogue with brass and strings - has allowed her to make her best album yet: a fascinating collection of songs that takes what has gone before and refines it whilst simultaneously breaking new ground. Nothing is beyond her, and this means that the constant need to experiment may initially present the album as inaccessible.

However, listeners should know better than to trust such knee-jerk reactions; Holter has rarely done things the easy way, and it's no different here. 'Horns Surrounding Me' comes off as a hybrid of Kate Bush and Björk - its restless bass ostinato creating a sense of tension throughout, as anxious-sounding as Holter's breathless delivery in the song's opening segment.'In the Green Wild', meanwhile, takes nimble, jazzy basslines and combines them with an energetic, sung-spoken vocal line from Holter, gradually opening out into the first genuinely arresting moment on the album, morphing into something akin to a pop song out of absolutely nowhere.

For an album that relies on subtleties and slow-burning tracks, it sure knows when to take the direct route. 'Hello Stranger' uses the gradual build of gentle strings to set the scene, then Holter enters around a minute-and-a-half in with a voice of jaw-dropping clarity and almost transcendent beauty, at which point the album starts to settle into itself properly.

Whilst it remains unpredictable throughout, Loud City Song is never anything less than completely thrilling. 'Maxim's II' shows off two completely different sides to Holter's ever-changing music, starting out as another blissful pop moment, and ending in blaze of energy, freewheeling horns clashing violently with a straightforward piano line. On its own, it seems deliberately confrontational, but this unexpectedly buoyant finale works very well indeed in album context, leading into the gentle piano balladry of 'He's Running Through My Eyes', the album's shortest track at a tidy 2 minutes and 20 seconds. It's an effective palate-cleanser before the final brace of tracks.

There's a relaxed ease to 'This Is A True Heart', striking a balance between Holter's usual elegance and an unexpected jauntiness, before fading away as 'City Appearing' ends the album on a high, its seven minutes beginning in a stately manner, gradually swelling to a cinematic finish and bringing the curtain down on a record that's full of surprises. Holter's latest effort rewards patience and perseverance; it turns out it's not 'difficult' at all, but is instead a breathtaking and immersive listen.