Review Summary: Wild artistic fridge pop
Before she joined the ranks of very intrepid pop artists questing intrepidly for the evasive Rainy Day Masterpiece, Julia Holter released a good album. The album’s name was Loud City Song
. People described it “Lynchian”. Some of them were probably the same people who described albums like Amon Tobin’s Permutation
, Nine Inch Nails’ Ghosts VI: Locusts
and Bohren & der Club of Gore’s Sunset Mission
as “Lynchian.” Who knows. I’m sure they know what they’re doing. In any case, what was interesting about Loud City Song
- and not in the very uninteresting sense of the usual air-quotes Quirky Holterisms - was that it evoked a sense of the city space as oppressive and alienating just as much as it positioned Holter’s voice as distinct and, without seeming overly self-cultivated (hi there, Aviary
), ‘alien’ by virtue of very different qualities. The invocation of a strange and disconcerting site was matched by the equally enigmatic yet delicately personable manner of its articulation. It felt wonderfully cohesive in how Holter blurred the lines between being a cool force of observation and an anxious product of the space she sought to represent. A Strange Lady In A Strange Town: there you go, Loud City Song
can hold its own with the best of Buzzfeed. Not that the darkness and ambiguity surrounding cities is a remotely original theme (don’t you dare reach for the phrase ‘urban jungle’), but Holter walked the walk, addressing it in her own terms with a genuine sense of wonder, tension and mystery. At points it was outright beautiful - good for her! Even better, it came with a logical next step attached: graduating from hints of urban wilderness and soaring into more expansive hinterland territory. Great. Let’s get lost with Julia Holter...
Welcome to Julia Holter’s Desert Island
For those who arrived safely - those Pitchfork reviews and legacy claims can be tough to get through! - welcome! You’ve potentially sacrificed a fair amount to be here; there’s an awful lot of other things you could be doing with 47 whole minutes of your life (see the Recommended Albums tab). Unlike the proprietor of this establishment, may sunlight shine upon her, I won’t sugarcoat things. There’s, uh, a big catch. Remember the wonder and gripping ambiguity that made Loud City Song
so great? Um, yeah
. None of that here! Instead, Holter Hotels Ltd. offers us a savoury experience of cutting edge ArtPop, airless for your convenience and recently reheated from the furthest depths of their very finest refrigerator. It’s dreary as anything. The stakes are almost nowhere to be found. It’s like Ms. Julia signed for a quest into the unknown but never made it out of the tutorial level. Almost (we’ll get to that!) none of these tracks feel remotely entranced by the possibility of stepping out of their comfort zone, and so they skirt the uncertainty and wanderlust that should be part and parcel for anything that muses on wilderness or frontier themes, whether personal or literal. Nowhere is this more obvious than opener “Feel You”, which relegates Holter’s trademark vocal inflections from an unpredictable vehicle of intrigue to a dull accentuator of dull melodies, but it also creeps into stronger, more ambitious cuts such as “Vasquez”, which goes through the motions of downtempo and spoken word like it’s crossing off items on a shopping list, a leftover Laika track repurposed for minorly more exotic ends. The tiresome “Sea Calls Me Home” drags its both of its left feet in a bland mockery of all things twee romanticism, though with a lovely sax solo to raise the tone, and the admittedly beautiful “Lucette Stranded On The Island” (a clear highlight) feels a little clinical in its near-mesmeric call-and-response.
All things considered, Have You In My Wilderness
would be more accurately titled Julia Holter’s Wilderness Is A Plush Hotel With Above Average Air Conditioning On An Implausibly Aesthetic Desert Island So Please Come And Stay For As Long As You Care To (And No, You Can’t Go Outside)
. Imagine if Mr. Incredible got to Syndrome’s island only to live the rest of the film within his imagination while staring out of his bedroom window. This is not an interesting window. We see this window once and once only, the first time he visits the room. The reasoning for this twofold: firstly, so that the film’s young audience never had to witness the state of the room after he was done getting it on with Mirage (the producers settled for turning his superhero moonlighting into a not-so-subtle metaphor for the affair that obviously takes place - I mean, what would any washed up American family man do in his position… (for what it’s worth, I bet there’s quality fan art out there somewhere)). The other reason is that the window is boring. This is the primary point of difference between Mr. Incredible and Julia Holter. In Mr. Incredible’s position, Julia Holter would have taken a good feature-length look out of that window and daydreamed up an album, all while lightly clutching a picturesque glass of picturesque lemonade kept cool by the temperature of her hand and the strength of her vision. Articles aplenty have likely been written about that lemonade, and my intuition tells me it has yet to be consumed after all these years. Odds are it will remain as such until the likes of "Silhouette" and "How Long?" materialise from the realm of eggshell wallpapered waiting room purgatory they seem tailor-made for. Don’t count your chickens...
The album’s silver lining renders that phrase - silver lining - as chronologically apt as anyone could hope for; the final minute is nigh-on stunning, finally seeming to flesh out the tone and aesthetic teased by the previous forty-six minutes’ stronger moments ("Night Song", "Lucette…"). The title track in general is so spellbindingly executed that it *almost* vindicates the approach taken by its predecessors and *almost* incentivises an ill-considered lunge for the replay button. Don’t do it!!! This album’s only real magic trick is in how that song reduces a forty-seven minute experience to two-hundred-and-seventeen compact seconds, far more considerate for your timetable but not quite the same when it comes to Best Of [Time Period] list fodder. Karma’s a bitch, though; this time compression schtick ultimately backfired into the unending swathes of nowhere-scape that Holter subsequently spewed into existence on Aviary
...but that’s a story for another rainy day.