Julia Holter makes a kind of music that could be too cerebral to be fun. She holds multiple degrees in composition and studied under avant-garde musician Michael Pisaro. Her early records are highbrow-conceptual, inspired by Euripides and Virginia Woolf. She called her most recent album Aviary after learning that birdcages were considered storehouses for memories in the Middle Ages from a book by medieval literature expert Mary Carruthers.
I like the heady stuff when I’m in the right mood, but Holter’s pop instincts are too strong to allow her music to feel overly academic. Listen to her records and what strikes you first is her gift for melody. It may sometimes be baked into fussy arrangements and packaged with lyrics that reference Pushkin and Etel Adnan, but her melodies are always there to draw you in deeper.
On her 2015 LP Have You in My Wilderness, Holter made a conscious decision to adhere to more traditional song structures. The result is one of the decade’s best albums, comprised of 10 delicate, baroque indie pop tracks that overflow with melody while still offering plenty of musical and lyrical surprises.
Opening track “Feel You” is instantly warm and inviting, with romantic strings swelling over stuttering drums and harpsichord. Holter’s voice, like her music, is both ethereal and precise, making lyrics like “Can I feel you? Are you mythological?” at once sensual and scientific.
Other highlights include “How Long,” which evokes Nico at her most cinematic, and the unexpectedly buoyant “Everytime Boots.” My favorite is “Silhouette,” which begins with sunny vocal echoes over minimalist keyboards before building to a dense, swirling string crescendo. While Holter has been atypically secretive about the song’s lyrical origins, one Genius.com contributor speculates the inspiration was Sweet Valley High. Not everything has to be highbrow.