An unexpected feeling of warmth and security washes over one whilst listening to fourth album of multi-instrumentalist Julia Holter Have You In My Wilderness. Fans of the Los Angeles native have grown used to her paranormal explorations (Tragedy), travels into spiritual realms of consciousness (Ekstasis) and escaped from mind-controlling birds infecting gloomy nocturnal city life (Loud City Song), but this album paints a spring-colour palette; flowers blooming in a healthy Sunday morning sunshine with a sense of grounded certainty in the air.
The decision to push Julia Holter’s effortlessly gentle vocals to the clear forefront attached to enchanting harmonics (‘Feel You‘) and cheerful enthusiasm – at the advice of helping hand Cole M. Grief- Neill, rather than obscuring them with filters, background echoes and overwhelming layers could be one of the reasons for this. The clickety-clack piano fun on the Regina-Spektor/Miss Li-style ‘Everytime Boots’ and the vibrant use of strings is her new trait on passionate ballads (‘Betsy on The Roof‘and ‘Night Song‘) also contribute to this safe haven atmosphere. There’s no overall dark concept behind the compositions like on Tragedy and Loud City Song, instead each song has its own individual story; once again Holter restrains from being autobiographical and would rather observe other characters – which listeners have to decipher through her proud storytelling skills.
It might be less intense for listeners, but for Holter, the production was the scariest of the quartet of LPs, uncomfortable with the idea of having lyrically individualistic songs and nervous at how to compose pieces to fit different themes. The indecision and confusion lead to a development nightmare and justifies the explanation behind the two-year-gap since her last record; previously it was annual delivery of music. Whether on purpose or not, ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ appropriately conveys the feeling of transporting oneself away from familiarities and the free of freedom: “Wear the fog/I’ll forget the rules I’ve known.”
Musically, Holter’s wilderness is just as intelligently bold and her idiosyncratic instruments continue to survive throughout her tales. The harpsichord is a constant, bringing baroque sophistication (‘Feel You’), squeaky and frantic saxophone keeps the free-jazz spirit alive (‘Sea Calls Me Home’), and the way Holter embraces the under-appreciated double bass is admirable. Any suggestion that Holter is playing it safe with her voice or has lost her edge in her arrangements is proven wrong on magical tracks such as ‘Vasquez’ and ‘Lucette Stranded on The Island’. ‘Vasquez’ imagines Air producing ‘Blade Runner Blues’ as Holter talk-sings over down-tempo chillout jazz in an early-Pati Yang fashion. It’s a track that cameos all of her beloved tools and sums up her quality as a whole. Furthermore, the climax to ‘Lucette Stranded on The Island’ also pretty spectacular. An epic build of suffocating drums and ethereal backing vocals that succeeds the sound of more unconventional metallic percussion.
With the change in musical temperature on Have You In My Wilderness, Julia Holter’s collection is now suitable for all seasons, rather than just the cold and sheltered moments of winter.