Album Review: Have You in My Wilderness by Julia Holter
Exceptionally Good, Based on 21 Critics
The Guardian - 100 Based on rating 5/5
It feels slightly odd to use the words “commercial breakthrough” in conjunction with LA’s Julia Holter. Holter has long set out a defiantly avant-garde stall, making music that gave the kind of critic who likes to talk about things like mesotics and detournement the opportunity to talk about mesotics and detournement until they passed out from exhaustion. On one early solo release she used John Cage’s Circus On – a score consisting of an instruction on how to turn a book into a performance – to make music out of a Los Angeles church-club cookbook from the 1920s.
Los Angeles-based singer-songwriter Julia Holter has referred to the intimate and fascinating Have You In My Wilderness, her fourth album proper, as her ‘country’ album, but rather than pedal steels and cowboy chords, this seems to speak to the sense of a retreat from the metropolitan fever-dream of 2013’s Loud City Song. While there isn’t a central theme that’s perhaps as clear as that of the preceding record (based around both Colette’s novella Gigi and the 1958 musical adaptation) or of Tragedy (inspired by Euripides’ Hippolytus), the titular wilderness runs through the 10 songs here, Loud City Song’s chattering clubs and swinging rhythms replaced by parks and plains, jagged rocks and rolling seas. Although Holter has referred to the lyrics as streams of consciousness, the songs here are peopled with a variety of characters, and it’s to open spaces that they find themselves exposed time and again, whether as willing escapees (“I’ll take my time here, there’s no reason to rush” – Everytime Boots), or, on the extraordinary Lucette Stranded On The Island – also taken from the writings of Colette – dumped by a lover “sharp and high on the Balearic promontory”.
Upon the release of her 2011 album Tragedy, Julia Holter received praise as one of the most innovative avant-garde electronic artists out there. While she clearly deserved the praise she received, the categorization was inaccurate. She recorded Tragedy with primarily electronic instrumentation, but she only did so out of necessity—as a fledgling artist, she lacked the funds to hire the session musicians that would characterize much of her later work.
After drawing on Greek tragedies and MGM musicals for her earlier albums, it would be hard for Julia Holter to find loftier sources of inspiration. On Have You in My Wilderness, she recasts her ambition to a more intimate scale: where her previous album Loud City Song had the heft of a novel, these songs play like a collection of short stories. Indeed, Holter remains as literary as ever; her influences include Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories -- with Holter taking a sultry, Sally Bowles-meets-Nico turn on the torchy "How Long" -- as well as the novella Chance Acquaintances by Colette, whose Gigi begat Loud City Song.
A Short Essay On Have You In My Wilderness The issue is the possibility of love, as Avivah Zornberg beginsher recent book Bewilderments on wildernessand the accompanying wandering,the lonely wandering,of people in search of their desire. Desire is polyphonic,as Lacan knew,independence encircling independence,drifting amidst,a framework in which things fitand don’t. In this respect,love songs are always a convergenceof form and content.
Four short years ago, Julia Holter emerged from Los Angeles as a music school graduate, eager to compose her own mini symphonies. Her debut album, Tragedy, was a self-produced revelation, fusing ambient textures, chamber and experimental pop into one bewitching package that she somehow managed to outshine on her subsequent releases.Have You In My Wilderness is Holter's fourth album, a collection of ballads exploring "love, trust and power in human relationships" that feel like they were composed by a completely different artist than the one that made Tragedy. These songs aren't only her most intimate yet, but also her most fully formed.
Before needle touches groove on any Julia Holter record, you can confidently make at least three assumptions about it. It's going to be imaginative; it's going to be immaculate; and it's going to take your breath away. So it's hardly surprising to find the Los Angeles songstress's fourth LP Have You In My Wilderness is all of these—and possibly more.
Review Summary: "oh she's been marooned, can anybody help her?" On Loud City Song we heard Julia Holter approaching her compositions with a keener interest in the immediacy of pop music. She was relying less on the atmospheric hazes and vaguely abstract compositions of Ekstasis and Tragedy to set the stage for her voice, and instead steered towards a much more focused and structured style of songwriting. There was a greater appreciation for warmth, symphonic depth, and lucidity that seasoned the music in Loud City Song, and these very qualities are what ascended the album to the status of Julia’s “most approachable and viscerally gratifying album” - but her latest output may be the successor for that particular title.
Water imagery pervades California-based singer and composer Julia Holter’s fourth record, Have You in My Wilderness. Some mentions of rivers and rain don’t resonate beyond the quotidian, while others lend a mythic backdrop to Holter’s narratives. With this in mind, it hardly seems coincidental that this is her most translucent album to date: she’s stripped back the heady layers of effects that padded 2012’s Ekstasis and diverged from the lyrical abstractions that featured widely in her early work.
Head here to submit your own review of this album. Last year, Julia Holter performed at the Barbican backed by the stargaze orchestra, a troupe that brought music from across her first three albums to full, breathing life. The audience was certainly spellbound by the spectacle, but the most excited person in the theatre was undoubtedly Holter herself.
It's hard to believe the Julia Holter of 2015 also created the billowy, deconstructed pop of 2011's Tragedy. The ephemeral ambience and experiments with song and sound that formed its backdrop, as well as that of 2012's Ekstasis, have been cleaned up for her two albums on Domino Records. Loud City Song found Holter moving closer to the foreground, both in her singing and her approach to arrangement and production.
The composer, keyboardist and singer Julia Holter has pursued her strange, dreamlike visions across three albums of experimental pop, all released in the last three years. In that time, she's also worked with electro-pop act Nite Jewel and psych-folk cult favorite Linda Perhacs, and in all of this activity, you hear her restlessly pinpointing and subsuming new, piquant sounds. Those sounds range widely, from French impressionist classical music and 17th-century madrigals to Talk Talk's jazz-infused post-rock, from the avant music-drama of Robert Ashley and Meredith Monk, to the pop songwriting that evolved in the hills of her Los Angeles hometown in the 1970s.
Saying that LA-based Julia Holter’s fourth album is her most accessible to date is hardly a bold assertion, given that previous efforts have been based on works by those overused pop touchstones Euripides and Colette. And yet Have You in My Wilderness is a fascinating, immersive listen. As with her past work,most notably 2013’s Loud City Song, Holter’s music is dense with ideas, but this time her vocals are in sharper focus and her experimental urges have been reined in a little.
For the pleasing symmetry of its bookending syllables, its general euphony and the raft of images it evokes, ‘wilderness’ is a wonderful word. A variant meaning, courtesy of the Oxford English Dictionary: ‘a piece of ground in a large garden or park, planted with trees, and laid out in an ornamental or fantastic style, often in the form of a maze or labyrinth.’ I wasn’t aware of this usage, but perhaps Julia Holter was when she named her fourth album. Not necessarily because she intends the wilderness she claims be interpreted in this sense, but because that definition could so easily apply to her music.
Julia Holter has a clever eye for borrowing, stitching together the twisted, gnarled sentences of Virginia Woolf, with the stanzas of flamboyantly life-loving poet Frank O’Hara, Greek Tragedies, and 40s French novellas on previous albums. But, to paraphrase one of Holter’s likely favourites Mrs Dalloway, on ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ she bought the flowers herself. Just as poetic, but rooted in a new, more personal realism, Julia Holter’s voice has never sounded clearer.
Sometimes listening to Julia Holter is like watching a film of a dream: gauzy, beautiful, the set immaculately dressed and the light in the golden hour haloing the characters’ emotional highs and lows. At other times, her music is like dreaming of a film, something half-remembered or only eerily discernible, as if you’re falling asleep in front of the TV as snatches of a classic romance flit around amid your own concerns and passions. Her style is rooted in her classical training, composition degree, and highbrow references, but has always been generous with its visceral delights.
"Language is such a play," Julia Holter chirrups on "Silhouette," a meditation on a dude that blooms into a Bjork-ian fractal of voices, strings and harpsichord shards. All the world's indeed a stage on this enchanting fifth LP, the latest in the California singer-composer's evolution from avant-electronic vocal explorer towards a lush semi-pop middle-ground that's theatrical, liturgical and shoe-gazing. Holter's English-language flow rides non-English cadences without suggesting mimicry, just as she blurs acoustic and digital tone-colors.
The second track on Julia Holter’s Have You in My Wilderness, “Silhouette”, is for the first 3 minutes a brisk and tingling expression of a distant love. It’s perfectly pleasant with an endless supply of breezy drum-fills and fluttering violins. The last minute is different. In a sudden crescendo, the reverb on everything is cranked up and Holter’s echoes start to layer one another.
Julia Holter — Have You in My Wilderness (Domino)The meteoric rise of LA-based singer, pianist and composer Julia Holter seems to have metabolised out of thin air in the space of a mere four years and an equal number of critically-hailed albums. It’s down not so much to her talents as a songwriter and musical conceptualist (although kudos in both cases), but because Holter refuses to take her achievements, and the positive response to them, for granted. She is an artist constantly on a mission to expand her horizons and musical nous, absorbing influences like a sponge before squeezing them out into her own unique take on the craft of song writing.
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Julia Holter’s last album focused lyrically (albeit ambiguously) on her native L.A. Her new one, the fourth full-length in her catalogue, is about matters of the heart, and its stunning textures come in part from the 30-year-old singer/songwriter’s ensemble of talented L.A. musicians. Holter’s inflections often sound more Norwegian or maybe German than American, particularly on the third song, How Long?, which evokes Nico at her most esoteric.