There is a good reason why Julia Holter’s fourth album Have You In My Wilderness topped all of the albums of the year lists in 2015. A very good reason. In short: it’s bloody brilliant. Considering that Julia is only 31, the Californian singer songwriter has - with just her fourth long player - created a masterpiece in accessible yet intelligent electronic folk pop.
Some of Holter’s previous albums and songs are tributes to such obscure and unlikely pop muses as the ancient Greek playwright Euripides and acclaimed Parisian novelist Colette. So, as you can imagine, Holter’s music is overflowing with ideas from her crowded brain. But whereas in her first three albums these ideas were represented more abstractly in the sounds, with Have You In My Wilderness she finally really pushes her voice to the forefront.
But when watching Julia live, it seems the music created in the studio struggles to translate well on the stage. Of course a live performance will never perfectly recreate the studio sound, and nor would anybody want it to (if you did, why not just stay home and play the CD?). But the gig we were presented with at the Anson Rooms in Bristol tonight suggests a touring band that are tired of being on the road for so long and ready to go home. On album opener "Feel You", the band are all one or two seconds out of time with each other throughout, creating a really disjunctional and discordant sound. And not in a good way.
All bases are covered with Julia’s band: alongside the front woman on vocals and keyboards, she has a drummer, double bassist, viola player and saxophonist in her backing band. They’ve clearly been working and touring together for a number of years, which is reflected in their camaraderie and knowing looks between one another. But it's disappointing that all of the songs sound much the same when played live, smothered in breathy chords and chilly feedback. Even the more accessible tracks from Have You In My Wilderness blur into one another, and "Vasquez" is unrecognisable until the familiar refrain of “Bandito” before the chorus. Because this is not at all the sound you hear when listening to her recorded music.
Highlights from the Bristol set are "Betsy On The Roof" and the new album’s title track "Have You In My Wilderness", where the feedback is reined in and Julia’s outstanding vocal finally has the space it deserves. Julia Holter is clearly a hugely exciting talent, as demonstrated on her four albums to date, but sadly in Bristol we did not see her on top form.