Julia Holter’s latest release starts off with this promise of wanderlust (“Feel You”), yet Have You In My Wilderness is packed with reasons to stay in one place. You only need to look at the horizon to see how crude the world can be. But Holter’s brand of Art Pop, stemming from her musical upbringing in California, doesn’t settle on a singular narrative. Like on her previous releases Ekstasis and Loud City Song, the singer-songwriter dabbles with a poetic meter that’s not so much irregular as it is intrepid. Whether she talks about the consummation of fine cheese or the grandeur of mythology, the base of her records is the story. And in spite of this, the glorious instrumentation is neither secondary nor primary; it’s not a vehicle or pretentious bliss. Each everything is unitary in one large place.
Where is that place? The gargantuan nature of “Silhouette” finds its stealthy strings conjuring up the wilderness that Holter might’ve been dreaming of with this record’s inception. She speaks of linguistics and their dramatic quality, only to transition to a story around Sally Bowles, a fictional character from a Christopher Isherwood piece. There’s a leviathan-like quality to the deepness of the vocals, one that’s both operatic and experimental. Another horizon is unravelled in the story within “Lucette Stranded on the Island,” a track with bells and woodwinds that channel the sound of waking up from a long sleep. High notes deliver sunlight, readying for each instrument to demonstrate their prowess without fully pursuing a solo. In the cacophony of sounds, our narrator reveals that a man put her on an island. As the adage goes: the author is dead. Is Lucette on a physical island or a mental one? No matter which one it is, what Holter does is follow the thematic thread of being stuck somewhere.
“Sea Calls Me Home” and “Everytime Boots” function to be contemplative notes, both elegant, yet somewhat disheartening in tone. The former track is one of the most poppy numbers that the singer has ever created, using a lax, yet catchy beat along with whistles and a gorgeous sax solo to guide listeners on a fruitless quest. Desire-wise, the objective is clear: leave the island. Realistically, that’s difficult, and pulling of a Tom Hanks from Cast Away wouldn’t be the best option. Yet in that position of being glued in one position comes clarity, at least some translucency. “Everytime Boots,” with its playful tempo and upbeat percussion, captures the feeling of wanting to take charge, but the seemingly insurmountable obstacles discourage you from doing it. The album is more so realistic than depressing. It doesn’t present a pessimist or an optimist, but a soul knowing the difference between reckless abandon and learned helplessness.
After the polyrhythmic flows and chilling crescendos from “Betsy on the Roof,” “Vasquez” takes familiar listeners back to a set-up not unlike the settings from “Maxim’s I” and “Maxim’s II” on Loud City Song. “Vasquez” tells the story of the Tiburcio Vásquez, a bandido from the “gold country” who was known for his literary talent and romantic affairs. In the narrating of his story, Holter describes faces like she was reciting a mix between a poem and a meditation. It’s a well-needed meditation, for she wraps her album up with a title track, a song about commitment and the fear associated with it.
Holter isn’t holier than thou. Her music video for “Feel You” shows her living life with a dog–normal people stuff. Yet through her poetry and talent, she has created an album that can be treated like something mythological, ancient, or part of a literary universe alongside a musical one.
Dustin Ragucos is a writer of things fictional, poetic, and musical. His main loves include Death Grips and Indie music. Dustin’s blog is host to a weekly blurb about albums old and new.