Julia Holter 2024
Photo: Camille Blake / Motormouth

Julia Holter Goes Underwater to Find Room to Move

Julia Holter drips her semi-conscious thoughts on the musical canvas to access her artistic sensibility, but she seems a bit unsure of the process.

Something in the Room She Moves
Julia Holter
22 March 2024

Julia Holter has said of her latest album, Something in the Room She Moves, that “I was trying to create a world that’s fluid-sounding, waterlike, evoking the body’s internal sound world.” She has succeeded! The album is positively dripping with moisture: it’s like a combination of taking a shower while sitting in a bathtub while the humidity steams up the mirror in the bathroom. One’s appreciation of the record is determined by how much one values the wetness of the sound. What it all means is up to the listener.

Holter uses her voice for a sonic effect. The lyrics can border on the silly and nonsensical, as in “Sun Girl” and “Spinning”. Consider the verse “What is delicious and what Is omniscient and / What is the circular magic I’m visiting / What is appropriate what is so yummy / What is the opposite love in becoming fish” as representative of the album as a whole. Other times, she wordlessly croons sounds that she plays with in her mouth, as in “Meyou”. She uses changes in tone, adding fuzziness through closing her cheeks, and other vocal techniques to make music. Her purpose is oblique.

This is not to say this isn’t music per se, but it has much more in common with avant-garde performance art than traditional pop. Julia Holter’s vocals float over the synth accompaniment rather than harmonize, often disappearing and reappearing during the course of a song. Other instruments, such as a flute, clarinet, or tenor saxophone, sometimes show up in random ways to help create an atmosphere. The same is true of drums and percussion. They are not used conventionally.

Take, for example, the song “Talking to the Whisper”. The seven-minute opus begins with martial drumming, has a flute solo in the middle passage, and ends with a cacophony of instrumentation. The music purposely doesn’t connect, perhaps to express the shattering of emotions alluded to in the lyrics. “Did I hear that right?” Holter’s narrator sings. The listener may not be sure either.

The title track, “Something in the Room She Moves”, sounds old-fashioned compared with the other material. It evokes roomy old houses with parlors and gardens (“When I’m in the furniture / I believe what I can / What I seek could be so nice / What I seek could be so life- / like paint in wine / And I wake to find that / There’s something in a vacuum / And there’s nothing in the front room / Oh my feet are still in the garden”). The cut is fairly staid for one about movement. Holter uses the humor (“If there’s anything I know / I can intuit stucco”) of imagining a person as a room in a Swiftian manner—that’s Jonathan Swift, not Taylor.

Julia Holter wants to let it all hang out. She drips her semi-conscious thoughts on the musical canvas as a way of accessing her artistic sensibility, but she seems unsure of the process. Something in the Room She Moves as a whole seems safe, like coffee table art. One can admire the contents yet not be absorbed by the material.  

RATING 7 / 10