Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness is a superbly constructed piece of chamber pop in the Kate Bush / Regina Spektor / Tori Amos vein.
Her music walks a fine line: experimental and challenging, while also managing to be accessible and engaging. In lesser hands it could be a bit of a mess, but Holter executes in exacting fashion, creating an album of penetrating beauty that is full of surprises. Her songs manage to sound both serious and breezy, with compositions that are inventively crafted around handsome melodies, syncopated rhythms and diverse instrumentation.
Along with her probing, erudite songs, the thing sets Holter apart from her alt-pop contemporaries is the clarity of sound on this record. While other indie darlings sing through that forced, I-couldn’t-give-a-shit accent (what is that?) or bury their voice in pursuit of an ethereal, lush soundscape, Holter’s rich vocals are front and centre, penetrating with precision.
Likewise the instruments are lucidly captured: the songs here don’t hide behind production tricks. Perhaps it’s the scarcity of electronica in favour of organic and varied instrumentation (double bass, saxophone, clarinet, harpsichord, piano, violin, cello) that makes for such an arresting listen.
The songs present a range of characters and story fragments, and there are many highlights. The opener (and lead single) ‘Feel You’ is built over a harpsichord riff and unsettling rhythms, but possesses a beguiling melodic hook that immediately engages. This is followed up by the understated but charming ‘Silhouette’. The bright and breezy ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ builds to an unexpectedly heavy sax solo, just one of the many satisfying surprise moments on the album. ‘Everytime Boots’ is an upbeat, catchy number, while ‘Betsy On The Roof’ and ‘Vasquez’ (with its bracing, free jazz aesthetic) are longer, baroque compositions that demonstrate Holter’s diverse songwriting talents. The raw beauty of Holter’s vocal performance on the title track then closes out the record.
Decidedly quirky and unconventional, occasionally avant-garde, Holter might not immediately appeal to everyone, but she is worth the listening investment. The eccentricities never feel contrived, they are just one facet of the natural expression of this intelligent and affecting artist whose bracing creativity is striking and completely endearing.
Have You In My Wilderness is out now from Domino.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor
Photos courtesy of Julia Holter’s facebook page