Art-pop composer Julia Holter offers thrill of unpredictability in live compendium In The Same Room

Art-pop composer Julia Holter is not interested in reinforcing concepts, but rather taking them apart, piece by piece.
Art-pop composer Julia Holter is not interested in reinforcing concepts, but rather taking them apart, piece by piece. PHOTO: DOMINO

Like her birthplace, Los Angeles, Julia Holter can be a conundrum, frustratingly difficult to pin down.

Where is the centre? What is the core that identifies her? Which is the real one?

Such questions are, alas, not going to be answered or, more accurately, will be deemed irrelevant in her latest record - a compendium of live recordings of tracks taken largely from her last two records, 2015's Have You In My Wilderness and 2013's Loud City Song.

This is because the mercurial art-pop composer is not interested in reinforcing concepts, but rather taking them apart, piece by piece. You glean a skeletal melody, but it is how she steers it - this way, that way - which makes the journey utterly compelling.

Such is the immediacy, the thrill of unpredictability, that drives her work. Hers is not so much in-your- face confrontation as a gentle nudge of the door into some uncovered sanctum.

In The Same Room takes its title from a track from 2012's Ekstasis, which rides on the chorus: "I can't recall this face, but I want to."

The line is a useful guide in appreciating the risks she undertakes in recalling and reconstituting.

  • AMBIENT/ EXPERIMENTAL

    IN THE SAME ROOM

    Julia Holter

    Domino Documents

    4 stars

Live, Horns Surrounding Me is a softer, sparser creature than the studio recording. It is all shading, with strings and cymbals creating an oasis of calm. In contrast, on disc it is a bricolage of parts, girdled by a Motorik loop and percussion, that mimics the frenetic pace of urban living.

Holter's voice takes centre stage in City Appearing, being a ruddier presence here than on the studio version, negotiating the subtle rises and dips of the piano with femme authority. Spatially, there is more room for her vocals to manoeuvre in the soundscape created by her musicians Corey Fogel (percussion), Devin Hoff (double bass) and Dina Maccabee (viola).

She comes into her own on Lucette Stranded On The Island, awakened by tinkling bells and softly caressed ivories, then taking charge towards the end, a full- throated diva as the strings get more baroque and the percussion almost galloping.

Reason if you must, but her songs beseech one to feel the texture of each melody.

Herein resides the beatific pleasure of her tactile art.

It does not aim to please, push or promote an agenda. Instead, it is insinuation, suggestion, freedom. Enjoy.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 07, 2017, with the headline 'The thrill of unpredictability'. Print Edition | Subscribe