• Julia, the fluidity, and the power of song (1/5)

    Finally I got the fine double vinyl version of Julia Holter‘s bewitching new album „Something In The Room She Moves“. And I felt confirmed: it‘s a very different experience to listen to this work in its entirety than to splice it up in single pieces (as Olaf and I did when reviewing the tracks one after the other). Finally I could let fall myself into the music, float with it, and go much deeper than the analytic approach allowed me (and us) to do. And finally, Julia answered my questions, and did that not in a hurry, but with a calm flow of thoughts. She takes her time. More will follow, a radio appearance, too, and her first answer may be another invitation for some listeners to dive into the album. My first question was:

    Some moments of the album seem to be influenced, soundwise, by Kate Bush, and, from a distance, mirroring moods of Joni Mitchell‘s HEJIIRA. The Jaco Pastorius bass memories, the fluidity of the atmospheres…. Joni deliberately looked for a special  sound of constant movement as a means for  reflecting a long journey across the U.S.A. Devin Hoff does an excellent job here with the fretless bass.

  • Fleeting thoughts on Julia Holter songs (2)

    Olaf and I were talking bass a bit when changing mails about this very special work. As Tom Pikarski writes in Exclaim: „When Devin Hoff’s fretless bass enters, it does so like a layer of molasses; rich, sticky and sweet. Hoff’s contributions are an essential component of the record, calling to mind the vital role that bass plays in the music of Holter forebearers like Kate Bush or Joni Mitchell.  (…) Perhaps the greatest feat of Something in the Room She Moves is that, while there are plenty of organic instruments all over these recordings, it’s the synthesizer playing and sound design that lend the record its characteristic lived-in, sinewy and roving lifeforce.“ And now our fleeting notes. On side B. This will definitely be a one time experiment. We were not happy with splicing the whole work into single pieces. We always had to imagine its flow instead of experiencing itOur deepest listening still lies ahead, I think. That said, don‘t take our words too serious, smoke them in a pipe, put the record on – and float downstream


    Olaf: A steady beat is the ground from which strange textures blossom – moog, bass, voices, noises, delays, only a few wind instruments for a change. Everything disintegrates towards the end, the textures wither away, the the song tumbles and falls apart. (I repeat myself but I really like what the bass player does, very melodic and sensitive playing.)

    Michael: So here we are, at the beginning of side B. The perfect place to let the rhythm in… and, yes, while it nearly all dissoves into air at the very end, another kind of voice takes the lead: calm clear, focussed. The calmness after the dance. The track grabs me more and more. This album seems to be the classic grower. 


    Michael: The ambient piece, the oceanic piece. Julia is smart: instead of delivering a purely peaceful landscape, she let‘s the uncanny in sideways, after a while. You never know, oceanwise… it ends on a tranquil note though.

    Olaf: Nothing to add. „Ocean“ is another proof of Julia Holter‘s versatility; unique music, that fits perfectly at this moment. And it wouldn‘t feel out of place on any state of the art ambient album.  This snapshot of the ocean was made in the evening, which brings us to the next song.

    Evening Mood

    Olaf: A counterpart to „These Morning“. Being tired after a long day, its events appear like a mild vortex on the threshold of sleep. The voice binds the musial elements of this vortex into a song. Again: lovely singing, beautiful bass playing – and a dash of Harmonia towards the end.

    Michael: Really, Harmonia? Have to listen again with your ears. The calmness, and the apparitions of the day receding… but after initial moments of letting loose and introspection , a lingering irresisitibe melody blows new life into the singer‘s voice and leads us through the evening‘s offerings between the wistful and the dreamlike. All in perfect union with heightened awareness. (From start on, listening to this album requires a very relaxed state of mind. My trick: darkness and a candle.)

    Talking To The Whisper

    Michael: Maybe the most complex song… you never know where the journey of a single track goes, except sideways, most of the time: in the second half Chris Speed‘s saxophone conjures a dark fantasialand full of wonder, a sense of danger follows, then: boiling point.

    Olaf: It really is a complex song, constantly on the verge of ending, laying false trails. At the same time I find it one of the most emotionally engaging songs on this album. There is this middle section that totally gets me: „Let me light, let me throw light/ On your path, little one / Leave me time to stop and say / Love can be / Shattering“.  

    Who Brings Me

    Olaf: A lullabye to close the album. Major themes reoccur: sleep („As I fall asleep“) water, sound („And the eyes of the water tide / Scanning blind with just the sound to guide“), love („You, my love waking up my every day“). Sparse instrumentation, the string instrument and the overall atmsophere remind me of the Velvet Underground – gorgeous and uncanny.

    Michael: This song has to happen at the end. Things calm down. But not like all is good and pancakes. Unsettling dream images pop up… („Fading gusts of luck change my breath“) … and I ask myself: what has that all been about (ready for a second, for sure, deeper journey)… There‘s an interesting balance on this whole album between, well, apparitions from nowhere (dream life), clear structures (for a while), and things / sounds falling apart.

  • Fleeting thoughts on Julia Holter songs (1)

    “My heart is loud,” Julia Holter sings on her sixth album Something in the Room She Moves, following an inner pulse. The Los Angeles songwriter’s past work has often explored memory and dreamlike future, but her latest album resides more in presence: “There’s a corporeal focus, inspired by the complexity and transformability of our bodies,” Holter says. Her production choices and arrangements form a continuum of fretless electric bass pitches in counterpoint with gliding vocal melodies, while glissing Yamaha CS-60 lines entwine warm winds and reeds. “I was trying to create a world that’s fluid-sounding, waterlike, evoking the body’s internal sound world,” Holter says of her flowing harmonic universe. 

    Sun Girl

    Michael: „Sun Girl“ appears like a dreamscape at a beach. There’s a thin line between song and texture, the words ethereal. The mood nearly on the brink of falling apart, then it flows again, in short rhytmic bubbles, aJoao Gilberto bossa lightness. But no bossa. Apparitions all over the place, foreground turning background and vice versa.

    Olaf: This sounds like Musique Concrete with instruments instead of sounds / field recordings. Not a song, but a walk through a jungle, across a river using the bass line as stepping stones. Change is constant, everything is in flux, sunlight through spray and haze. The weightlessness of it all, pop apparitions.

    These Morning

    Olaf: After the misty swirl of „Sun“ a moment of calmness, the perfect sonic rendition of that sweet moment between sleep and wakefulness. Not fully awake yet, the mind wanders without the intellect by its side – through this garden of circular sounds. Love this song and its textures, the trumpet, the bass again – „just lie to me, just lie to me, just lie to me“. (I don’t really know why this song reminds me of „goodbye stranger“ by Supertramp).

    Michael: „These morning get sunrise / Tall fjord, some time lost / Brush aside any words sinking to the abyss ago“. This again like notes from a dream, fragmented, pastel coloured, wonderful Wurlitzer (even the words themselves not fully awake). The first seconds like a classic pop ballad, but then the dream-o-sphere takes over, the singer gets lost in structures drifting apart,  a strangely joyous feel in surroundings that may possibly harm you.

    Something In The Room She Moves

    Michael: The sense of the surreal is enhanced  on the title track, and I love the variety of her singing here. And the  sense of drama: all the instruments with their passages of power and coming to a halt, taking a breath –  and clearly, you don‘t know what this is all about, but it is all brillliantly executed with a clear sense of purpose and place. And the jazz feel here: bass and saxophone are not just colouring the scene (Robert Wyatt would love Julia‘s „jazz vibes“).

    Olaf: Is „the scene/ on a beach or green screen“? The music has a flow, that is natural and hyper-artificial at the same time – I do agree: it is a „sense of the surreal“. Again: I love that bass playing, a touch of Eberhard Weber – this breakdown, bass, organ, saxophone, is gorgeous & stunning – strong ECM vibes.


    Olaf: Keyboard and voice in a cathedral, beautiful echos / sound reverberations / sublime sound treatments. So far the shortest song and almost a conventional pop ballad. (digression: How is this all rooted in the „pop“ tradition? Definitely not in the song structure – there is nothing like a verse-chorus-formula here. The instrumentation/arrangement is more jazzy and avantgard-ish than pop… but it definetely has a „pop“ sensibility. So what kind of music are we listening to?). The last seconds of the song are breathtaking „what of love is a matter of love is a …

    Michael: Everything in this song on the verge of falling apart: more than a whisper, less than a „real“ song. Ethereal is the word. It is strange sending emails for every single song, I am very curious about the whole experience of the album. Definitely water is the element here, there, and everywhere.


    Michael: Another meditation with certain Meredith Monk echoes, the only words here are me and you, and how they melt into one another. Classic love song area, with Gregorian moods, and minimal / disturbing eruptions. What all happens, when nearly nothing happens.

    Olaf: Classic love song area – a fitting description! A the same time it is far from being a classic love song. A tonal experience: first only one voice singing and breathing, then different voices join in, delicate sounds and treatments in the background, the stage gets wider – until at the end, we only hear that one voice again. Me You. I don’t know whether I really like this, but it does recalibrate the ears, cleanses them for the second half of the album. So also a classic closer for side A of an LP.

    Olaf und Michael mailten sich während freier Stunden zwischen Niedersachsen und Sylt ein paar Impressionen zu Julia Holters in Kürze erscheinendem Album „Something In The Room She Moves“. Sie hörten Song auf Song der Schallplattenseite A. Das Sequencing schien perfekt. Beide waren sich sicher, Seite B würde mit einem rhythmischen Power-Track loslegen. Und so kam es: Spinning

    (Julia Holter gesellt sich wahrscheinlich dazu, wenn es um die Seite B geht, und ein paar grundsätzliche Gedanken und Empfindungen zu ihrem Werk. Wir sind gespannt.)