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Julia Holter Is Impossible to Pin Down at Rough Trade NYC

October 26th, 2015

Julia Holter – Rough Trade NYC – October 24, 2015

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Onstage Saturday night at her sold-out show at Rough Trade NYC, Julia Holter opened with “Horns Surrounding Me,” her strong voice evoking a touch of Debut-era Björk, punctuated by flourishes of saxophone, violin and a driving drum beat, and she scanned the crowd with an intense gaze as she sang, as if to make eye contact with as many people as possible. There is a powerful force contained within Holter’s music, with lyrics both straightforward and enigmatic, and a stage persona that oscillates between these extremes. For example, in prefacing “Silhouette,” from her latest album, Have You in My Wilderness, Holter stated matter-of-factly, “At the end I go crazy—like insane.”

To be fair, this manifested in a quite measured, subtle way, through the repetition of layered vocals and violin crescendo, with the true insanity perhaps contained somewhere beneath the surface. Later on, Holter used equally evocative language to describe “Lucette Stranded on the Island,” (“a horribly tragic nightmare song”) and “Have You in My Wilderness” (“another sad song about losing my mind”). So, yes, there is a healthy sense of drama and intrigue contained throughout Holter’s music, and it’s clear why she draws comparisons to experimental artists like Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom.

Yet, it is also understandable why she took offense to a journalist’s recent question about whether “she whistles when she is alone,” as Holter recounted from the stage last night. “How patronizing,” she commented, as if by her lyrics or music style she could be pegged as some sort of whimsical/quirky archetype. Closing the show with a powerful pair of songs, “Betsy on the Roof” and “Sea Calls Me Home,” Holter further proved that her compositions and style of performing are at once singular, strange, beautiful and impossible to pin down. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK