LA singer, songwriter, composer and producer Julia Holter is no stranger to the avant-garde. Her debut LP Tragedy took inspiration from Euripides’ Ancient Greek play Hippolytus, while 2013’s Loose City Song draws on a novella by Collette. But this time around, Have You In My Wilderness isn’t quite as well read. There are fewer literary shout-outs, and things seem more intimate and connected to Holter. This isn’t always clear from the feathery acoustic features and lyrical prose, but tracks seem focused and refined.
Soaring vocal melodies mix with hints of 80s synths in ‘Feel You’. “My first thought was there are/So many days of rain in Mexico City”, Holter murmurs, in an oh so Holter lyric. Her sentences break apart when you don’t expect them too, making way for new ideas. It’s like a dream: moments don’t relate to each other, but come together to create something bigger and brighter. Listeners have to arrive at their own meanings, taking cues from the tracks’ sonic features.
The easy-going optimism of ‘Feel You’ fades on ‘Lucette Stranded On The Island’ and ‘How Long’. On ‘Lucette’, Holter creates lethargic soundscapes with traditional instruments, electronic elements and field recordings (listen to the opening for something that resembles a wind chime). Have You In My Wilderness dabbles in different of sounds, and it’s to Holter’s credit that she can sculpt this into something that resembles art-pop – obviously, with an emphasis on ‘art’. She tries on different genres – like jazz fusion in the mellow, cold-drip of ‘Vasquez’ or the classically themed, open spaces of ‘Night Song’ – without limiting herself to a signature sound or style.
Album highlights ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ and ‘Everytime Boots’ add pace, wading deeper into the waters of pop. On ‘Sea Calls Me Home’, Holter swoons “I can’t swim/It’s lucidity/So clear”. Swimming aside, the irony doesn’t go unnoticed: the song’s heavy, looping rhythm and whistled bridge add to the seaside dreaminess – all in all, it’s about as far from clear and lucid as things get, but that’s the appeal. With galloping piano chords and a solid, driving beat, ‘Everytime Boots’ doesn’t wait around to amp things up. Holter’s sweet tone, which is reminiscent of Feist, floats to the top of the mix. It’s a little oomph in the record’s pace, and it would be nice to see this pop-flavoured punch spread to other tracks. But on the other hand, that’s not really what Have You In My Wilderness is about.
Julia Holter is confident in the quiet approach of her fourth LP. But it’s the record’s upbeat moments that are its strongest, or then again, maybe I’m a bit of pop tragic. Because after all, this really is as pop as art-pop gets. Among the experimental sounds and whispery ambience, Have You In My Wilderness is stained with enough pop to be accessible and enjoyable. So by all means, enjoy.
Have You In My Wilderness is out now via Domino. Julia Holter will play a string of East Coast shows in December while she’s in Australia for Meredith Music Festival. For more information, head to juliashammasholter.com.