Julia Holter - Have You In My Wilderness
Julia Holter's last couple of releases have ended up in my top 10 albums of the year (including a #1 in 2013 for Loud City Song from me), so it's perhaps a little surprising that her fourth album Have You In My Wilderness falls relatively low this year. I will first state then that I love this album.
On Wilderness we're taken mainly away from the cities and bustling locales of Loud City Song, and back more towards the stranded dreaminess of her previous album Ekstasis. This time Holter's songwriting is much sharper, more direct and therefore more accessible. This means that her stories of isolation and being cut adrift emotionally are secreted away in audibly stunning compositions that are perfectly capable of putting you into a state of bliss, completely unaware of the perils Holter is describing. And that is exactly how she would want it; many of the protagonists that she portrays in her mini-tragedies on Wilderness are hopelessly but liberatingly floating away from reality.
"Lucette Stranded On The Island" and "Sea Calls Me Home" are perfect examples of this glazed-over drama. On "Lucette" a dreamy chorus lofts through in gusts with Holter weightlessly singing "Oh she's been marooned! Can anybody help her?" as though it's just an afterthought. This care free approach, gilded by richly textured strings, gives the song an air of insouciance that is intoxicating. On "Sea Calls Me Home" it is Holter herself who is in trouble, this time drowning, but seemingly having an epiphany while doing so: "I can't swim! It's lucidity! So clear!"and this revelatory moment is eerily becalming.
Jazz has always been a background presence on Holter's albums, especially in her use of double bass. This continues on Wilderness in some of her most slinking and sultry songs yet, both "Silhouette" and "Vasquez" making good use of brush sticks to accompany Holter's velvety vocal.
It's in the writing and arranging of the instrumentation that Holter has really excelled on Wilderness. Album highlight "Betsy On The Roof" encapsulates this perfectly, as Holter takes us into the night sky with her imagination, soaring on her ascendant vocal and cresting on clouds of violins. The song then pivots and whips itself into a gust, swirling us around until Julia brings us back down softly to solid ground. At the end of the song you can hear the piano bench beneath Julia creak as she's recording it, and you're struck by the intimacy of the moment and the song, and even more impressed that "Betsy" - and every other song on the album - are the results of a singular vision and one of current music's most talented songwriters.
Have I bought this album?: Of course!
Waxahatchee - Ivy Tripp
Merge / Wichita
On Katie Crutchfield's third album as Waxahatchee we yet again get to glimpse the further maturation of a strong and honest female songwriter. Even on her previous albums she was not afraid to get deeply personal, but her perspective on herself and her issues has shifted over the course of them. On the lo-fi American Weekend she presented a youthful uncertainty in talking about her friends and family; with the upgrade on fidelity on Cerulean Salt also came a new angrier and more outspoken Crutchfield; with Ivy Tripp we have a fully confident and powerful Crutchfield who presents her confessional songs with no fear of recriminations, which is wholly impressive.
Judging from the stories told on Ivy Tripp, Crutchfield has been involved in, or witnessed, a fair amount of drama, and she uses her songwriting abilities to speak up for the female perspective. "I know how to break inside that brick house you build around your cranium - you wear it like a crown," she spits reproachfully on the turbulent "Under A Rock." On the empowering anthem "Air" she talks down to someone to whom she confesses "I left you out like a carton of milk"; maybe proud, maybe slightly ashamed, and then coldly pronounces "you have patiently given me everything that I will never need." Perhaps most most cutting of all is the double edged knife "<" where she simply discloses "you're less than me - and I am nothing."
Despite these severe pronouncements, and the air of dissatisfaction that floats around the album, there are so many perfectly captured moments that there is no shortage of beauty in them. Take the opening track "Breathless," where Crutchfield is considering her quickly fading feelings for her partner, despite his love for her: "I'm not trying to be a rose / you see me how I wish I was / but I'm not trying to be seen." On the stripped-bare organ mantra "Stale By Noon" she admits "I can imitate some kind of love / or I could see it for what it is and stop kidding myself." "La Loose" is her most immediately poppy song to date, with a sprightly drum track and a catchy wordless hook, but hidden within its lyrics is a tragic story of clinging to a former love: "I'll try to preserve the routine / and I don't want to discuss what that means / you're the only one I want watching me."
Reading the lyrics to any of Crutchfield's albums could almost be a substitute for reading her diary, the lyrics are often so personal. But she adds a lot of poetry ("ethereal, I'm in bloom / torturing the afternoon") and plenty of depth and range in her delivery, from muted consolation to outspoken fiery discharges. The rock songs that she writes to go along with them are seemingly simple, but there are plenty of organs and synths used to fortify her proclamations, not to mention that she knows how use her guitar amply when frustration strikes. By bringing her demons into life musically she's challenging them, and hopefully beating them too.
Have I bought this album?: Pre-ordered it from Wichita and got it on white vinyl.