Over the course of three swiftly released albums, California’s Julia Holter has moved from the bedroom to the studio, from synths to sweeping orchestral arrangements. She’s a singer-songwriter, but not a confessional one – instead, she’s interested in telling stories at once moving and mysterious; 2011’s Tragedy mined Greek drama Hippolytus, while 2013’s Loud City Song was bizarrely based around the musical Gigi.
Fourth album Have You In My Wilderness might not feature an obvious overarching theme, but it’s undoubtedly Holter’s most welcoming, majestic set so far. Opener Feel You is an art-pop delight, with skittish drums, regal harpsichord and keening strings underpinning Holter’s icily detached voice. Things soon get stranger with the misty, disconnected Lucette Stranded On The Island, its violins, harp and piano echoed into a gorgeous haze, and How Long, with Holter sounding positively Nico-esque over dramatic, churning strings. As the album draws to a close, the jaunty Everytime Boots ups the tempo with swinging piano and drums, but soon twists and turns unexpectedly, before twinkling, echoed electric piano notes pinprick the melancholic space of Vasquez.
Compared to the left-field synth experiments of Ekstasis or the more freeform, jazz-influenced Loud City Song, Have You In My Wilderness is relatively accessible. Yet none of the songwriter’s personality has been sacrificed for this; her training in composition means all sorts of lush harmonies and unexpected chords continue to surprise, while the standard textures of strings, piano, harpsichord and double bass are continually warped with inventive arrangements. The result suggests that Holter, placid at the centre of all these swooping sounds, now deserves to be classed alongside past sonic adventurers in song such as Joni Mitchell or Robert Wyatt.