Have You In My Wilderness, by Julia Holter
Suggested by Paul Wray
Have You In My Wilderness is a concept album, based loosely on the film Gigi.
For a start, the idea of a Concept Album (with emphasis on the Capital Letters) seems very worthy, to be appreciated rather than enjoyed. Serious Business. There are great ones, of course – The Wall, Seventh Son of a Seventh Son, even American Idiot – but I fear that at a base level, sacrifices are likely to be made to the theme over the sound.
Second, as I’ve never seen Gigi, I may have trouble with this one. However, this could prove a godsend, because maybe it doesn’t actually matter after all.
After a full and frank listen, I’m happy to say that the whole Concept Album thing didn’t register with me one iota. I did, however, have a few issues.
Have You In My Wilderness is a peculiar album. It’s sparse, yet beautiful, flowing with swollen strings and punctuated with idiosyncratic drums. Julia’s vocal has a pixie, ethereal quality, with a slight touch of the unhinged, like Bjork in her more reflective moments. This ethereal quality affects the whole album, as if the sound is merely edged with a fineliner rather than boldly drawn and coloured.
There’s a breathless quality to the whole album, flowing from two creative wellsprings. The first is the vocal, delivered in an understated and almost apologetic tone. It’s hard to see where a signature song may come from, never mind anything as artistically bereft as a single. Anthemic, this is not. The second odd choice is the drums, which often stutter and stammer as if they are chasing the songs rather than driving them. This is for sure an artistic choice, but it leaves the listener on edge throughout.
Even with these quirks, I think Have You In My Wilderness is an intriguing project. It does feel mesmeric, as if promising great things if you’d only pay attention. The sound is almost haunting in places, which can add to the sense of disquiet but can also elevate the beauty. I think I’d like to listen to it again, but I can’t pinpoint a mood or occasion in which I’d deem it a good choice.
As for the individual songs, my personal favourite is Betsy on the Roof, followed closely by Lucette Stranded on the Island. These seem to connect with me on an unplumbed emotional level. I reckon the titles might also mean something to fans of Gigi, but I could be wrong.
I struggle to rate this album in a conventional sense. If pressed, I’d give it a creditable 6/10, but that does feel generous. Julia Holter has left me with a few questions, and a vague sense of unease. Isn’t that what good art is for?