Julia Holter, "Spinning" (Domino Record Co.)

One of America's brainiest divas since 2007, LA-based Julia Holter has brought academic-music rigor to electronic pop with a rare finesse. Playing organ, harpsichord, and drums in her meticulously designed compositions, Holter vocalizes in a manner that locates the golden mean between Kate Bush's dramatic flourishes and Laurie Anderson's poker-faced declarations.

Holter's smart, dulcet tones also have found their way into tunes by French synth legend Jean-Michel Jarre, folkadelic cult heroine Linda Perhacs, and fellow contemporary, boundary-pushing singer-songwriter Laurel Halo. One of Holter's more interesting recent collabs occurred last year with British producer Call Super's "Illumina," on which she coos mysteriously for a jittery mindfuck of an IDM track. Yet she's also cut a devotional cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Gold Dust Woman." You gotta respect such range and unpredictability.

Holter's sixth album, Something in the Room She Moves (out March 22), has yielded two singles so far. The first, "Sun Girl," reveals a more organic sound, including supple, probing bass that recalls the fretless work of Japan's Mick Karn. It's a hushed, dreamy song not unlike a 21st-century update on the aforementioned Perhacs's Parallelograms' hallucinatory reveries. "Sun Girl" is bisected by a bizarrely warped flute solo, with its second half conjuring a deeply oneiric bliss that will resonate with anyone whose mind's floated to the United States of America's "Cloud Song." 

By contrast, "Spinning" bumps into life with a metronomic shuttering sound and mechanical, plonking percussion. Further on, Holter delivers one of her most sensuous vocal performances as keyboards soar and sigh in sympathy with her passionate singing. The song's chorus—"What is delicious and what is omniscient?/What is the circular magic I’m visiting?"—summons that ineffable sense of wonder that comes in the midst of extraordinary creativity. At one point, a reverbed wind instrument evoking a distressed seagull contrasts with the ravishing melody, because Holter can't ever play the pop game straight—thankfully. 

On the strength of these two tracks, Something in the Room She Moves (a play on the lyrics from the Beatles' "Something") should demand your complete attention. Holter said of the album in the press release, "I was trying to create a world that’s fluid-sounding, waterlike, evoking the body’s internal sound world." Intriguing. You can catch Julia Holter performing at the Crocodile on May 6.

The L.B.'s, “Gazing Lovingly” (Wax Thématique) 

Seattle/China label Wax Thématique concludes its crucial Funkways Series with this understated gem by the L.B.'s (aka Seattle musician Joel Ricci, fka Lucky Brown). With his group Lucky Brown & the S.G.'s, Ricci had forged a body of work that can compete with the cream of the Daptone and Coalmine labels. All of these cats are A+ students of funk's '70s heyday, and they apply the lessons they've learned with panache and a desire to not simply Xerox the glories of that era's potent groove science. 

On the L.B.'s' new "Of August Countenance" / "Gazing Lovingly" 7-inch, the A-side sounds like a joint by Ethio-jazz luminary Mulatu Astatke produced by pioneering '60s producer Joe Meek. The slinky rhythm, woozy horns, Jacques Willis's spine-tingling vibraphone motif, and Tomer Zuk's serpentine organ solo cohere into a graceful journey to enchantment. 

Flipside "Gazing Lovingly" is suffused in a sublime nocturnal glow reminiscent of Faze-O's "Riding High" while strutting in slow-motion to a funky drummer (Polyrhythmics' Grant Schroff) who has ice in his veins. Rezin Tooth—Nathan Spicer, keyboardist for impeccable Seattle funkateers Polyrhythmics—puts his dubwise touch on this smooth seducer of a track, whose simmering pheromones ought to get somebody/anybody laid. 

(The digital version of this single is available now via Wax Thématique; vinyl ships around February 2.)