Julia Holter’s last album, Loud City Song, was a concept album inspired by the film Gigi that struck me at the time as a work that required a fair amount of attention and patience but ultimately rewarded the listener. In the time since its release, I’ve returned to it and found myself admiring it to a large degree, but from a distance. Holter’s music is impeccably crafted, but the result is occasionally music that is so methodically put together, it can feel a little airless.

What makes Have You In My Wilderness such an enticing listen is how Holter has found a way to combine these immaculate constructions with a newfound warmth and playfulness, concessions to the listener that do nothing to dilute her appeal. Lead single “Feel You” opens the album here with a directness that confirms Holter’s altered approach, and its accompanying video simply featured Holter playing with her dog. It’s not the look of an artist aiming to build her mythology.

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Nevertheless, this remains a work of deep focus, one that sees its creator harness all of her powers and eliminate much of the pleasant drift that tended to affect her previous work. When she leans towards her Dietrich drawl in “How Long?” it only serves to make the eventual repetition of “All the people run from the horizon” sound more naked and affecting. During “Silhouette” and “Lucette Stranded On The Island,” she proves herself to be a master of the climactic build, always avoiding the obvious route for something more expressive and experimental.

It’s easy to forget sometimes that this is pretty much folk music that leans towards pop, albeit very left-field pop with large doses of orchestral strings that never come across as token embellishments. In “Sea Calls Me Home” and “Everytime Boots,” Holter’s looser side is evident, mainly in the whistling solo of the former and the surprisingly swinging rhythms of the latter. Both songs also display a newfound economy in her work, while remaining utterly memorable.

Holter’s ability to craft intimate lyrics that remain wrapped in enigma makes the album one long tease, a suggestion we are getting some kind of insight into her soul that proves, in hindsight, to amount to very little in terms of revelation. The temptation is to see its defiantly anti-fashion stance as a reaction to being a native of Los Angeles. Its pastoral qualities share nothing with her current home, and its dreamlike nature feels like a long exhale, an escape from the mundane nature of modern city living.

For that reason alone, Have You In My Wilderness is worth investigating, and that’s before you get to its multi-faceted charms that continue to reveal themselves the more you listen. Some may wish for more of the formal structure of Holter’s previous albums, but the likes of the show-stopping “Betsy On The Roof” stand as proof that she hasn’t had to jettison that for a gorgeous and uniform collection that, to me, ranks as her finest work so far. She remains an otherworldly mystery, but an utterly beguiling one.

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Julia Holter