The Haxan Cloak has scored the whole of folk horror film Midsommar
In a sense, you’ve probably already got the video accompanying Julia Holter’s World stored somewhere in your mind’s eye before you’ve even seen it. Like two dozen perfume ads preceding, Julia and her male companion are caught on 8mm camera swanning about the city scene. They film each other’s beaming faces from behind each other’s shoulders, embracing alongside shop fronts – alongside inevitably kooky details like the appearance of a Zoltar machine.
Initially, there may appear to be something of a mismatch in a video showing personal romantic scenes and much of the song’s lyrics – which at times feel like a game of word association, as she ponders upon trivial, childlike things like wearing hats and playing at tennis. But through it, you can pinpoint World’s creeping complexities. It’s a song veering bewitchingly between being an ode to a lovestruck mind lost in random thought, while simultaneously revealing the oncoming panic from someone trapped in a situation they’re unable to escape from. For all World’s sense of abstractness and sparseness, it may also be, in a way that feels accidental rather than definitively pre-planned, one of the most intimate moments the Californian has yet shared.
This sense of intimacy enters immediately with Julia’s voice, gentle and understated, as if she’s stood by your shoulder singing into your ear, and near enough to feel warm air passing onto your face. The instrumental palette used for World won’t offer too many surprises to those familiar with Julia’s work; violins, cellos, grand piano, and layered voice creep in to encircle Julia’s meandering words. But there’s a palpability in the way these textures rise and fall, and a greater confidence found in World’s stop/start template, consistently settling at intervals that leave a nagging sense of musical incompletion.
Inevitably, these inflating and deflating points of string-led beauty make World a song demanding of an attentive listen, and a similar approach is required to unpick at the lyrics. In a way that mirrors the stop/start template of the instrumentation and voice, what develops is an intriguing split between the general and the personal. “Heaven”, Julia begins with wide-eyed intent, before zoning in on something more reflective of a snatch of happiness: “all the heavens of the world”. Later, this split between the generalised and the specified betrays a mind in need of addressing someone close by, but keeps choosing to lose themselves in wider thoughts: “Mister… all the misters of the world”. And while almost getting lost in the cracks, it’s the double-edged romantic thoughts nestled alongside these that really land on World’s complexities: “every day my eyes are older, I grow a bit closer to you”. While remaining somewhat unfulfilled throughout, the ending plead of “How can I escape you?” – and the devastating silence that follows – leaves the listener ultimately shivering.
While last year’s ‘Ekstasis’ was a treasure trove of lush and curious sound, the sense of uneasiness powerfully displayed on World feels just as drawn from the other-wordly found sounds of first LP ‘Tragedy’ – brought out particularly powerfully on the snarling trudge of Try To Make Yourself A Work Of Art. A logical progression from ‘Ekstasis’ could have been to go down a rather classical cutesy path but World thankfully averts such moves; if Julia Holter continues to land somewhere in-between these textures for third album ‘Loud City Song’, then she should be onto a winner.