LA’s extraordinary experimental pop magician delivers her most welcoming long-player yet
f Disney ever asked David Lynch to remake one of their classics, LA’s avant-pop vocalist and composer Julia Holter would surely provide the soundtrack. Something nuanced, ambiguous and edgily enigmatic, but that also conveyed innocence and wonder, emotional depth and dream-opaque mystery. For that is Holter’s forte, and there’s currently no one else out there who can touch her at the refreshingly accessible end of electronic experimentalism.
‘Have You In My Wilderness’ is Holter’s fourth long-player. All of her previous output, which began with 2011’s ‘Tragedy’, has received glowing critical acclaim, and her currency has been steadily growing since. That first release, a concept album inspired by one of Ancient Greek tragedian Euripides’ plays (and why not?), announced an uncompromised arrival. A year later, she again referenced the classical with a second full-length, the ‘Ekstasis’ of the title referring to the philosophically-based concept of feeling outside of oneself.
While all of this may sound off-puttingly pretentious, trust us, it isn’t. Sure, this is nothing that Kylie would tackle and there are certainly shades of Laurie Anderson (and perhaps at times Julianna Barwick) in some of Holter’s vocal abstractions. Ultimately though, she’s an authentic artist, brilliantly doing her own thing and mining the under-exploited territory where pioneering futurism embraces the familiar.
And perhaps while more commercially aware than much of Holter’s previous work, all that visionary integrity remains very much intact in ‘Have You In My Wilderness’. Exploring the dynamics of love, trust and power in relationships – hardly new issues in the world of the pop singer – Holter’s ability to fly well above anything that sounds remotely prosaic renders these 10 tracks with such disarming honesty that it often feels like you’re hearing someone opine on these themes for the first time, even as the upbeat opener, ‘Feel You’, skips into view with its gorgeously layered melodic sensibility. Listen closely and its subject matter isn’t quite as tangible as you might think. “Are you mythological?” she asks of her out-of-reach addressee with oblique uncertainty.
‘Silhouette’ is a delight. Holter’s distinctly enunciated voice is right to the fore (where previously it might have been swamped in reverb or dropped back), surfing on waves of a vivid, flittering backing both real and synthesised. There’s a Brechtian drama in the plaintive ‘How Long’: “Stay with me ‘til the morning,” she sings with Nico-esque gravity, “with the three-man orchestra playing…” And there’s a troubled darkness too in the superficially torch-like ‘Betsy On The Roof’, which peaks in a disintegrating tumult of violin and piano.
The episodic brilliance of ‘Lucette Stranded On The Island’ is a high-order career highlight. Its vocals are delivered as though from a semi-conscious reverie and set against a swirling backdrop of choral echoes and multi-textured instrumental riches delivered by a classy ensemble. It’s a fine feat of both transcendent lyricism and beautifully realised compositional verve. The same could be said of the rest of this sublime work.