Julia Holter explores her songwriting with an album focused on live in studio recordings.
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. Holter’s albums to date have earned fair praise for her status as an avant-garde musician and serious artist, but with In the Same Room, she feels ready to dismantle her experimentations and demonstrate the raw components of her songwriting.
The album opens with piano keys rattling slightly before Holter’s vocals enter on “Horns Surrounding Me” and strings emphasize a loneliness in the performance. She flows throughout this track, while the tempo and tenor change effectively with the following song, “So Lillies". This song is direct in its emotion, and the feelings poured out of its performance, a stark contrast to the slow and steady cadence of the opener and following track, “Silhouette". Here, a playfulness enters the album, and the vocals are choppier and offer a staccato effect alongside percussion that drives beyond the light touch offered by the piano. But as quickly as this song speeds up the feeling of the album, “How Long” slows it back down to explore the loneliness and melancholy portrayed through Holter’s vocals.
In a stand-out performance on the record, “Feel You", focuses on Holter’s dynamic keyboards and direct vocals to push out of the general loneliness depicted in the first few tracks and introduce stirring instrumentation that increases the sonic capacity of the album. Though Holter and the band maintain the thematic and stylistic qualities of slight instrumentation complementing her vocals, the tracks grow in immensity and imagery. By the time “Vazquez” appears on In the Same Room, the atmosphere has evolved from quiet openings to still quiet but emphatic overtures and dreamily explored sensations depicted in Holter’s songwriting.
The wilderness and the past depicted by songs like “Vazquez” and “In the Green Wild,” are now compounded by a direct quality, presented with a measurable quality of life at this moment, yet rooted in an awareness of what came before and what will pass again. “In the Green Wild” is still particularly jazzy, with the bass taking a presence on the track farther in front of the mix that offered on any previous track, before the piano, strings, and drums reassert their dominance on the album. Strength flows from the dueling instrumentation of keyboards and strings on “Vazquez", continuously moving the album and Holter’s performance along before slowing decidedly to a prominent halt! The tracks that make up the second half of the album push the general qualities of the recording through, highlighting Holter’s artistry well but at times treading water between lighter moments and strengthened performance cues such as an emphasized chorus in “City Appearing” or “Sea Calls Me Home".
In the Same Room is the first release in “an irregular new series of live studio recordings designed to capture the ever-evolving arrangements of [Domino Records] artists and their bands in high fidelity", titled Documents. As the first “official Documents release", the quick pace of recording in only two days by Holter and her band made up of Dina Maccabee on viola and vocals, Devin Hoff on stand-off bass, and Corey Fogel on drums and vocals at RAK Studios in London, are highlighted in publicity materials, but certainly not presented by the intimacy and generosity delivered by the performances on the record. The title of this record and the care offered by the tracks document a far greater intimacy and resonance than a quick paced recording should offer, and accordingly, there is much to enjoy on this successful start to a new album series. Moreover, Holter’s work revisiting her catalog offers a glimpse into her artistry and songwriting, and a solid addition to the career In the Same Room overall compliments.