Music

Julia Holter: Have You in My Wilderness

On her fourth album, Holter may have crafted her most peaceful -- and poppy(!) -- album yet.


Julia Holter

Have You in My Wilderness

Label: Domino
US Release Date: 2015-09-25
UK Release Date: 2015-09-25
Amazon
iTunes

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. Her next album, 2012’s Ekstasis, added luscious string arrangements and free-jazz horn lines, only retaining occasional electronic elements like the processed vocals of the two “Goddess Eyes” numbers and the synth drum patterns of “In the Same Room”. With her 2013 masterpiece Loud City Song, Holter shed overt electronic affectations in favor of elements of classical composition and 20th-century art music, and lyrics that scan more as modernist prose than pop lyrics, staking her claim as perhaps the most boldly original artist of the modern day. And now, with 2015’s Have You in My Wilderness, she’s thrown another unexpected element into the mix -- pop song structure.

“Feel You”, the first single as well as the first track of the album, provides a perfect introduction to the album’s tone. A brief rising harpsichord line, and then suddenly, her voice, two notes, wordless, like a whistle. Strings swell, a stuttering drum line, and then... pop perfection. The album’s second single, the gorgeous “Sea Calls Me Home”, brings back the harpsichord to underscore probably the greatest chorus Holter has written. However, Holter resists the idea that the album was deliberately written accessibly, saying in an interview that “I’ not strategizing some pop breakthrough because I’m not the right person to have some pop breakthrough.” Indeed, the album possesses its fair share of avant-garde moments -- “Silhouette” ends in a claustrophobic string build reminiscent of the Beatles “A Day in the Life” or St. Vincent’s Actor and the break of “Sea Calls Me Home” surprises with an explosion of Ornette Coleman sax lines.

Have You in My Wilderness does possess one major change from Holter’s earlier work. Her first three albums were serious affairs, staidly classical and literarily allusive. And while the majority of the songs on the album are lush ballads, a playfulness shines through here like never before. The barroom piano of “Everytime Boots” seems almost danceable and the gentle bounce and lackadaisical singing of “Sea Calls Me Home” seem almost comic. She’s trimmed the literary allusions as well. Her debut album was inspired by the tragedy of Hippolytus, a Greek play by Euripides and Loud City Song came from the French novel Gigi. These allusions gave the albums defined the structures of the albums but made them feel in a way less personal. In an interview, Holter spoke to the freedom she felt in making an album that was just a collection of songs, or as she put it “this sort of record composed of ballads, or ballads that were about love or relationships between people.”

Indeed, the songs on Have You in My Wilderness move gently with few exception at the peaceful state of many ballads -- I recommend listening to this album while lying down for a nap as a uniquely peaceful experience. Lyrically, while not conventional love songs, these songs all tell stories of relationships, from the opening number, asking simply “Can I feel you?” This emphasis on the feelings that people inspire in one another recurs in “Night Song”, when she asks her lover “What did I do to make you feel so bad?” and ending the album by repeating “Tell me, why do I feel you running away?”

Another theme that recurs is that of the wilderness. Holter’s addressed the wilderness before, notably in 2013’s standout “In the Green Wild”. Holter looks at the wild as place of freedom, without boundary. A recurring symbol of the wilderness is that of the ocean, as in “Sea Calls Me Home” or on the title track’s beautiful metaphor “Oh, in your waters I've dropped anchor”. Another wilderness pops up, too, a far cry from the claustrophobic French city of Loud City Song -- the American west. In a concert a few nights ago, Holter introduced “Everytime Boots” as a song about cowboys and indeed, she speaks of cattle and rattlesnake winds.

The majority of her songs -- and indeed, her entire musical aesthetic -- conjure up sensations of the past. Only here, she constructs a significantly more American landscape than any of her other works, with their decidedly European slants. In the jazzy “Vasquez”, she continues, saying that “no one knows the story in the gold country”. An L.A. native, Holter constructs an 1800s perspective on the land that would one day hide her eventual home. For nothing lasts long in the wilderness, free of all boundaries. Mankind must construct them, she suggests, and eventually that leads to cities and yes, the inevitable urge to return to the wilderness. And once we get there, we find what a pleasure it is for Julia Holter to have us in her wilderness.

9
Music
Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Music

PopMatters Seeks Music Critics and Essayists

If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by the quality readership of PopMatters.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Books
Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Books

The American Robot: A Cultural History [By the Book]

In The American Robot, Dustin A. Abnet explores how robots have not only conceptually connected but literally embodied some of the most critical questions in modern culture, as seen in this excerpt from chapter 5 "Building the Slaves of Tomorrow", courtesy of University of Chicago Press.

Dustin A. Abnet
Film
Film

The Road to Murder in Love and War: Three Films from Claude Chabrol

The character's in Claude Chabrol's The Third Lover, Line of Demarcation, and The Champagne Murders are obsessively doubled and mirrored, reflecting and refracting their hunger for sex, love, money, and power.

Film

'Memento' Is the Movie of the Attention Economy

We are afraid of time, and so like Leonard in Memento, we kill it, compulsively and indiscriminately.

Film

What Lurks Beneath: 'Jaws' and Political Leadership in the Time of COVID-19

Boris Johnson admires the Mayor in Spielberg's Jaws. Remember him? He was the guy who wouldn't close the beaches -- and sacrifice that revenue source -- during a public crisis.

Film

'The Serpent's Egg' Marks One of Ingmar Bergman's Strangest Efforts

The Serpent's Egg bares many of the Bergman's trademark features – the suffocating auras of despair and an underdog's sense of triumph over tragedy – but falls short of a more intelligent rendering of human drama.

Recent
Music

The Killers - "Caution" (Singles Going Steady)

The Killers go for the big hooks and singable anthems on "Caution", but opinion is sharply divided about the song's merits amongst our Singles Going Steady panel.

Music

Lilly Hiatt - "Some Kind of Drug" (Singles Going Steady)

Lilly Hiatt sings about a different kind of love on "Some Kind of Drug". Hers is for a city and the impact gentrification has had its soul.

Music

There's Never Enough Time for Folk Music's James Elkington

The sometimes Wilco and Richard Thompson sideman, in-demand producer, and songwriter, James Elkington, muses on why it's taking longer than he expects to achieve more in a week than most of us get done in a lifetime.

Music

Billy Corgan Brainwashed Me: '90s Alternative Rock and the Introspective Abyss

Once in its thrall, these days I find the overriding message of '90s alt-rock especially naïve and even dangerous.

Books

Classic Shōjo Today: Moto Hagio's 'The Poe Clan'

Moto Hagio's The Poe Clan manga series a gender-fluid melodrama marked by deep psychological trauma.

Music

Salsa Band LPT Hints at the Genre's Future

LPT's debut album, Sin Parar, hits all the right notes for a contemporary salsa album.

Music

Jennah Barry Offers Up a Warm, Sublime Collection of Memorable Tunes on 'Holiday'

Canadian indie folkster Jennah Barry returns with her long-awaited sophomore album, Holiday, which takes on a looser, more relaxed approach.

Music

Fotocrime's '80s-Inspired Rock Is Often Half-Baked

Fotocrime's South of Heaven is interesting mostly in that it's one of the most mediocre rock records I've heard in a long time.

Music

Maria McKee Puts Down Her Electric Guitar and Picks up Dante on 'La Vita Nuova'

"Show Me Heaven" was another country. Maria McKee has moved to England, immersed herself in the Classics and turned away from the 21st century.

Books

Phuc Tran's Existential Trip of a Memoir, 'Sigh, Gone'

Phuc Tran's smart, tough memoir, Sigh, Gone, might launch a broken down kid to read 150 great books—for free, at the local library.

Music

Weeks Island's 'Droste' Is a New High Water Mark in Ambient Steel (EP stream) (premiere)

Lost Bayou Ramblers' Jonny Campos turns up as Weeks Island with Brian Eno/Cluster-inspired music straight from the bayou. Hear Droste in full ahead of its release on Friday.

Music

Ireland's Junk Drawer Share New Krautrock Meets Post-Punk Song, "Temporary Day" (premiere)

Junk Drawer's "Temporary Day" is a simple yet compelling video for a gripping song that shows why the band have earned such acclaim in their native Ireland.

Books

John Pham's ​J​&K​​ - It's a Matter of Perspective

In J&K, John Pham explores perspectives in the psychological sense. Like Picasso, he views things from more than one angle.

Music

Miranda Lambert - "Bluebird" (Singles Going Steady)

Miranda Lambert sings her blues the way an artist paints with them on her latest single, "Bluebird".

Music

'Stone Crush' Proves (Again) That Memphis Is Ground Zero for Soul and R&B

Stone Crush shines a light on the forgotten -- or never known -- artists that passed through the doors of Memphis' most storied studios in an attempt at just one fleeting moment of fame.

Music

Circles Around the Sun Shoot for the Stars on New Album

Jamrockers Circles Around the Sun's self-titled third album finds the band transcending darkness after losing their founder in 2019 to chart a groovy new course.

Music

Jazz's Kandace Springs Pays Tribute to 'The Women Who Raised Me'

Singer and pianist Kandace Springs tackles a dozen songs associated with her jazz vocal heroes, and the combination of simplicity and sincerity is winning.

Music

Coronavirus Tunes: A Brief Playlist for Our Times of Self-Isolation

As coronavirus spreads throughout the world and many of us hunker down with online media, we offer eight songs that share our feeling of seclusion.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews
Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.