Have You In My Wilderness is Julia Holter’s most intimate album yet, a collection of radiant ballads. Her follow-up to 2013’s widely celebrated Loud City Song explores love, trust, and power in human relationships. While love songs are familiar fodder in pop music, Holter manages to stay fascinatingly oblique and enigmatic on her new album. “This record is pretty haunted, in a way,” Holter says. “There’s always this lurking feeling that things may not be what they seem.”

Holter is well known for weaving literary references into her dreamy, atmospheric music. Her 2011 full-length debut, Tragedy, was based on an ancient Greek play by Euripides; Ekstasis pulled in quotes from Virginia Woolf, Frank O’Hara, and other literary titans; Loud City Song took its inspiration from Gigi, the 1944 French novella by Colette and the whimsical 1958 musical that followed. For Have You in My Wilderness, Holter reached inward for inspiration.

“I started writing a bunch of songs from my heart—warm, dark, and raw—with less emphasis on theatrical ideas and without an overall narrative, like I’ve sometimes used in the past,” she says. “All of these songs would come out of me while playing the piano very intuitively and quickly, without any planned concept. Many of the lyrics are stream-of-consciousness and surreal. Sometimes I would be surprised by the imagery that came out. Sometimes it was obvious, because of what I was feeling at the time. That’s what I love about something like this — that it’s almost automatic writing. But then there were months of molding the raw materials into something more dimensional—playing with the initial imagery that had poured out, and developing it just enough to feel excited about it. It's easy to start a sentimental ballad, but it's a challenge to finish.”

Have You in My Wilderness is also Holter’s most sonically intimate album. “It’s more intimate in both the poetic material and the vocal delivery and treatment of the vocals,” she says. Here, she and producer Cole Marsden Greif-Neill lift her voice out of the layers of smeared, hazy effects, putting her vocals front and center in the mix. The result is striking—it sounds as if Holter is singing right in your ear. It sounds clear and vivid, but also disarmingly personal. The focused warm sound and instrumentation — dense strings, subtle synth pads — adds to the effect. “I was going for a country album in a way,” she says, “centered on a warm sound, within which a variety of emotions could thrive.”

Like Holter’s previous albums, Have You in My Wilderness is multi-layered and texturally rich, featuring an array of electronic and acoustic instruments played by an ensemble of gifted Los Angeles musicians. “I like to work with acoustic instruments, and capture the richness of their harmonics and noise,” Holter says.

Have You In My Wilderness deals with dark themes, but it also features some of the most sublime and transcendent music Holter has ever written. The ten songs on the album are shimmering and dreamlike, wandering the liminal space between the conscious and the subconscious.

Over the past few years, Holter and her ensemble have toured widely internationally, and have played major festivals including Primavera, Pitchfork Music Festival, Big Ears, Moogfest, and Unsound. She has collaborated extensively with several musicians of note in her native Los Angeles, including folk legend Linda Perhacs.

-  Geeta Dayal