Release Date: Mar 31, 2017
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Julia Holter art comes with some conceptual baggage. Her albums draw on such sources as the Greek playwright Euripides, the novelists Colette and Virginia Woolf and the '50s Hollywood musical Gigi. So listening to Holter is like doing homework? Ugh. Don't worry: Whether you appreciate deep thoughts or simply need a quick buzz, the elegant melodies and twisty lyrics of her stunningly sensual music quickly get under the skin like an obsessive desire.
Julia Holter's 2015 album, Have You in My Wilderness, signified a major shift in her professional story. For the first time, she demonstrated a willingness to embrace the frontwoman role in her music, giving more of Julia Holter, whether it was a constructed version or the reality. The ensuing tour was the first chance to tangibly embody the change, and this live album is the first document of it for posterity.
In the wake of 2015's acclaimed Have You in My Wilderness, Julia Holter embarked on smaller projects, including the Bleed for This score and this collection of performances recorded over the course of two days at London's RAK Studios. In the Same Room inaugurates a series from Domino Records that captures reworked versions of their artists' definitive songs, and Holter's volume combines the spontaneity of her band's live shows with the meticulous craft of her studio albums. The setting gives her poppier songs more immediacy, with the bassline of Loud City Song's "In the Green Wild" taking on a dancerly sway that, coupled with Holter's sing-song delivery, gives the song a whole new mischief.
Julia Holter's sound is an airy one. Few musicians give enough space to their music. But, with In the Same Room, Holter gives intricate melodies and thoughtful lyrics just enough room to manoeuvre, to breathe. With four studio albums behind her, the LA-based multi-instrumentalist expertly pieces together her avant-garde sound, this time in a live room, recorded in London in just two days.
Julia Holter's live performances tend to serve less as exercises in reproduction than as an opportunity to expand the parameters of her recorded work. As such she makes an ideal choice for this first release of a proposed series of live recordings on Domino offshoot Documents. Recorded over two days at London's RAK studios, the set includes new arrangements of songs from all four of her studio albums to date.
Recorded live over two days in London, In The Same Room is the glowing starter sparks of Domino Documents, Domino Records' new imprint, its documentary-on-sound homage to music's radio-era grainy golden years smartly dressed into impeccably produced live-cut studio recordings. Herein, we are introduced to the introspective space of the music maker. Composer and classically trained pianist Julia Holter and her wild things— beloved tracks from her past offerings— are reigned in and led to run even wilder in her gorgeously bounding set.
Julia Holter's first live album, In the Same Room, borrows its apt title from a song off of her sophomore release, Ekstasis. It's also the debut of a new live recording series initiated by Domino Records. Titled Documents, the series is inspired by the classic live BBC sessions. For the Julia Holter enthusiast, In the Same Room is an essential addition to the avant-garde musician's colourful catalogue.
The essential fibers of Julia Holter's compositions are sturdy yet pliable, amenable to shifts in contour and color. "Goddess Eyes" first appeared on 2011's Tragedy in subtly exultant form; Ekstasis, released the next year, featured both a blocky rejigging and a retextured version. And on an EP that year, an acoustic "Goddess Eyes" revealed the patient ballad earlier obscured by static.
Such records rarely need to exist as such, and few but the finest examples of their kind (i.e. Stop Making Sense, It's Alive et al) are remembered by anyone beyond the obsessives and completists amongst us. So when Domino announced a whole series of live records to be released on their new Domino Documents imprint, I did wonder how the releases would avoid the rather obvious pitfalls of repetition and self-indulgence by which the format has been historically plagued.
The title of Julia Holter's latest album conveys its vibe perfectly. In the Same Room highlights her vocals and the subdued instrumentation of tracks pulled from recent albums for this "live" album. There is an immediacy presented by this recording, taken from a live-in-studio set-up, but also a mood of loss and isolation. Upon listening to these tracks, you feel that Holter is "in the same room”, but that the recording is still disconnected due to its medium and the limitations of a "live" in studio style.
Live albums are divisive by their very nature, so it bodes well for Domino's new series that they've managed to find a novel way of approaching the idea. The thinking behind Documents is to catch artists mid-tour not on stage, but in a London studio in order to capture high-quality recordings of the songs not as they were first time around, but in the form they've evolved to over the course of their time on the road. In that respect, Julia Holter is a perfect first subject (on paper, anyway - the label are at pains to point out that last year's Villagers LP 'Where Have You Been All My Life?' is spiritually the series' opening instalment).
If you think about the lengthy tour cycles independent artists embark on these days–for either the love of doing so, or at least the love of breaking even–it's hard to not imagine even the most diligent, happily nomadic acts becoming bored with some of the material they run through every night. However, it's undoubtedly a puzzle to figure out ways to revise and revamp old songs without subverting the original spark that gave them power. For many artists, finding an inspired way to treat their compositions as fluid templates while still rendering a convincing version of The Song becomes a frequent creative exercise.
'Does the soul exist in modern society?' asks Jean Seberg's character in Godard's film A Bout de Suffle. LA resident, Julia Shamas Holter asks the same question and makes the sonic case for an affirmative answer. Music, and art in general, have always served as a sort of tuning fork for our personalities. We wouldn't survive without aligning ourselves with something that comes from a place of truth.
It's difficult to avoid cinematic descriptors when talking about the music of LA-based pop experimentalist Julia Holter. Her music is noirish and suspenseful, her lyrics oblique and surreal, populated with hallucinatory imagery. A tapestry of different characters make their way through Holter's world, including such archetypes as the hopeless romantic, the femme fatale, and the world-weary bard.