In the past four years, American composer and singer Julia Holter has made a gradual transition from the obscure, avant-garde soundscape of her debut album Tragedy (2011) to this year’s critically-admired Pop opus Have You in My Wilderness.
Now signed to Domino Records, the development in sound could partly be explained by changes in her recording process – moving from solitary recording on a laptop to a collaborative studio environment.
But that’s not to say that things have got less innovative or compelling; Julia Holter’s songs are still joyously off-kilter and inventive. A case in point is the opening track of her gig at The Glee Club tonight, ‘Silhouette’. The song starts conventionally enough, with its traditional Pop chord structure and melody. But gradually the order falls apart, with things getting more dark, dusky and disjointed. It’s like an idyllic, sunny walk that gets interrupted by an invigorating rain storm.
While Julia Holter may have moved away from making art music, her songs still encompass a wide range of influences; it’s just now they have been refined to make a cohesive Pop whole. Jazz is at the core of the hazy, dream-like ‘Vasquez’, but an elongated bass section accompanied by droning viola also suggests eastern influences, all while slightly reminding me of Air. In ‘How Long’ Holter has even created her own version of a Bond theme, with its dramatic strings and crooning vocals.
And it’s not surprising that some of Julia Holter’s music sounds filmic. Indeed, it has been announced just this week that she has been drafted in to write the soundtrack for Bleed for This – the latest film from Boiler Room director, Ben Younger. But stories are clearly important to Holter,
with her first three albums heavily influenced by pieces of literature. Have You in My Wilderness doesn’t have an overriding concept but the songs still feel like a series of short stories or vignettes, offering a window to curious incidents in her life.
Consequently, between tracks tonight Julia Holter is prone to long and convoluted speeches about the stories behind her songs. I quickly start to find this quite annoying, but everyone else seems totally charmed. Before ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ she draws particularly tenuous parallels between her dislike of marching bands and paparazzi. Luckily the song is great, pounding, unrelenting and sounding exactly like how it feels like to be claustrophobic in a busy city.
As the set unfolds I come to realise I prefer the recorded versions of Julia Holter’s tracks to the live ones. Recorded, they are precise and texturally perfect. Live, things can feel a little thin and flat, even though the backing band playing viola, bass and drums features musicians of quality.
Things brighten up with Julia Holter’s most out and out Pop song so far, ‘Feel You’ – the opening track from her most recent album. With harpsichord at the foundations it sounds Baroque, but also light, glassy and modern – its catchy melody punctuated with rhythmic strings and drums. And if there were anything right with the world ‘Feel You’ would top the chart for weeks.