Julia Holter art comes with some conceptual baggage. Her albums draw on such sources as the Greek playwright Euripides, the novelists Colette and Virginia Woolf and the ‘50s Hollywood musical Gigi. So listening to Holter is like doing homework? Ugh.
Don’t worry: Whether you appreciate deep thoughts or simply need a quick buzz, the elegant melodies and twisty lyrics of her stunningly sensual music quickly get under the skin like an obsessive desire.
Exhibit A: In the Same Room. Featuring live-in-the-studio versions of 11 previously recorded songs, this alluring album takes its title from a track on her 2012 outing, Ekstasis. Her best-sounding record yet, it shines a bright light on Holter’s strong, clear voice and literate piano – plus occasional electric piano and harpsichord – giving plenty of space to longtime accompanists Devin Hoff (double bass) and Corey Fogel (percussion), and new collaborator Dina Maccabee (viola). Emphasizing the nimble quartet’s interplay, the uncluttered arrangements and clean, uncredited, production suggest a jazz or classical session, not pop calculation.
Echoes of Nico on the mournful “How Long?,” Roxy Music in Maccabee’s tense fills and Kate Bush on the airy “Lucette Stranded on the Island,” hint at the simmering heat of Holter’s tantalizing vignettes. Crafting poetry more inclined to insinuation than literal meaning, she sometimes presents striking images that evoke an unsettling, half-remembered dream. “I’m standing here on the ground, Betsy/Arms stretched out, looking up,” she exclaims anxiously in “Betsy on the Roof,” and gently succumbs to visions of lust in “Silhouette,” saying, “We’ll fall all over floorboards/I lose my breath just envisioning the scene.”
Still, for those who memorized her earlier albums, In the Same Room feels mildly disappointing. Containing no new material and revisiting seven songs from her last work, the 2015 masterpiece Have You in My Wilderness, it’s promoted as the first entry of Domino Records’ new Documents imprint, showcasing the label’s acts live in the studio. As such, it makes a fine introduction to Holter’s work for novices.
Longtime fans have had a few scraps of new content to chew on recently, with Holter contributing instrumental music to the score of the feature film Bleed for This and singing on one track of Jean-Michel Jarre’s latest. Now that latecomers are presumably caught up, thanks to In the Same Room, we can all start anticipating the next chapter in her brilliant career. No pressure, of course.