Julia Holter’s Have You In My Wilderness bucks critical analysis the same way dreams flinch away from the cold light of the morning after. The work is a swirling, beautiful impressionistic wonder, that, to borrow a cliché, genuinely has to be heard to be believed. Part musical, part poetic confessional, part soundtrack, part force of nature, it is utterly unlike any other album released this year.
Although each track thrills and hums with its own unique sound, Holter’s classical roots and hook-savvy ear keep things grounded. The work is filled with the kind of God-awed, space struck wonder that Brian Wilson forged a career on, but ultimately Julia Holter never sounds like anybody but Julia Holter. Tracks like Feel You and Everytime Boots are remarkably catchy, working first and foremost on an emotional and primal level, though Holter’s profoundly technical ear means the tonal complexity of both songs genuinely wows.
Holter’s great skills as a lyricist have always been sadly undervalued, perhaps because we are predisposed as listeners towards respecting lyrics that appear directly ‘autobiographical’ over any other type. Holter never sings in a way that makes one feel as though we are getting to know her as a walking, talking flesh and blood human being, and yet, her lyrics go deeper than autobiography. One gets a sense of the part of Holter’s self that she can express nowhere else but through her music. The words that accompany Sea Calls Me Home’s beautifully lurchy melody, for example, reveal the ineffable, yet complex, longing for freedom that underpins all of Holter’s work. “I can’t swim! It’s lucidity! So clear”!” Holter bark-raps, at once enamoured by the beauty of the sea, and yet vaguely threatened by it.
Some of the tracks on the album call to mind Holter’s early work. Lucette Stranded On The Island and Night Song, for example, both evoke the soundscapes of Tragedy, her first album. But this isn’t a case of navel-gazing. Holter doesn’t replicate what she has done before; she adds new layers to it, reworking her own roots in a way that is deeply impressive.
Have You In My Wilderness dabbles in territory most other musicians wouldn’t even dare to approach. It is a brave record from one of the bravest artists around, a musician so brilliant she genuinely belongs in a category entirely of her own.