Julia Holter: “Sun Girl”

Dreams rarely appear in crisp outlines. They waft through the mind, leaving smudges of color and scent, maybe the abstract contour of a face. This loose, limitless state is rendered vibrantly in the hands of composer and multi-instrumentalist Julia Holter, whose chamber pop and ambient works often feel coaxed from the subconscious. On her new single “Sun Girl,” Holter parts with the brassy, baroque melodrama of her 2018 album Aviary, and offers a swirling piece of psychedelia that smears the boundary between illusion and reality.

Holter evokes a sense of childlike play on “Sun Girl,” her sing-song verses looping like a nursery rhyme. “Dream day/Guess game/Neuron/Take me,” Holter sings, her voice sheer and weightless. But it’s the peripheral instrumentation that prods “Sun Girl” to life, making it glint like a beveled jewel. Bright key plinks disrupt whirring Mellotron, birdsong piccolo, and lap steel that melts like one of Dalí’s clocks. Even as Holter unspools the same circular melody, the arrangement bubbles around the edges; in the middle, craggy drum machine, screeching tenor sax, and the whine of a bagpipe jostle Holter’s placid delivery. It’s as if she’s slowly waking to the clamor of the outside world.