Julia Holter makes music that could only be music, the same way Terrence Malick makes films that can only be films, and Donald Barthelme delivers stories that only work as fiction. After all, music is the only outlet that can weather the weight of her swirling tonal complexities: her songs refuse to be categorised with vague emotional brands. Nothing she’s ever delivered is ‘sad’, or ‘happy’ or ‘melancholic’ or ‘bitter.’ She crafts tunes that transcend these boundaries, unlocking the part of ourselves that exists outside of language’s scope.
Holter, born in 1984, received her education at the Alexander Hamilton High School Academy of Music, and her classical training greatly informed Tragedy, her brilliant first album. A swirling, stunning release, Tragedy lives in the overlap between soundscapes and space pop, and was largely informed by Euripides’ Hippolytus.
But despite her classical inspiration and training, it would be wrong to imply that there is anything resembling an overly academic quality to Holter’s work. Though she uses a vast arsenal of traditional techniques, her music owes as much to pop and jazz as it does to anything else, and even an album like Ekstatis, which may initially appear complex, soon reveals itself to be stunningly simple. No Holter song ever ends in the same place where it started, but her music is never too knotty or arch. Indeed, similar to the work of post-modernists Thomas Pynchon, or David Foster Wallace, Holter uses an information overload to stimulate a kind of calm in her audience. She makes, in Foster Wallace’s words, the ‘head throb heartlike’, and the peace that a song like In The Green Wild instills is genuinely transformative.
Though Loud City Song is genuinely regarded as her very finest work, this year’s upcoming Have You In My Wilderness appears in all ways ready to take its place as the musician’s magnum opus. Dense and baroque, Have You In My Wilderness is a gilded masterpiece, that sees Holter succeed on every conceivable level.
Ahead of Have You In My Wilderness’ September 24th release, we are going to celebrate Holter’s incredible career. Check back in for part two of our featured artist coverage of Holter, and then again for our review of the stunning Have You In My Wilderness.