FEATURES Julia Holter Contemplates Change By Eli Schoop · March 21, 2024
Photo by Camille Blake

Midway through our conversation, Julia Holter’s power goes out. It happens while she’s explaining how her studio was having difficulties recording her latest album. Given how cohesive Something in the Room She Moves sounds, this is a pretty surprising admission. Holter was in the middle of talking about the process of recording her vocals at home and being unsatisfied with the mix when everything goes dark. Holter is unfazed by the interruption; she says this is what being a parent is like.

Something in the Room She Moves is colored by the fact that Holter wrote all but one of the songs while she was pregnant. “Evening Mood” even features a sample of her child’s ultrasound, recorded from her phone. As she puts it: “I just had a lot of feelings.” Compared to her previous efforts—the noir of Loud City Song, the breeziness of Have You In My Wilderness, the bombast of Aviary—the warmth and tenderness of Something is a sea change, a reflection of bringing new life into the world.

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

The most obvious reference point the title calls to mind is the Beatles’ “Something,” but the phrase was originally just a file name for one of her recordings. As Holter developed more and more of the music, she couldn’t get the line out of her head—even more so when it started to dovetail with the domesticity of raising a child while making new music. “I was having a hard time thinking of songs to use as a lullaby, and the only ones I could remember were the Beatles and Joni Mitchell,” Holter says. The process of making the record started to feel like a dream, Holter’s musical prowess complicated by someone so new and fascinating to her.

But Something in the Room She Moves is a somber record, too. Holter’s nephew died while she was recording the album, and that tragedy creates in the music a contrast between life and death—the way they tangle together in complex ways. “It’s capturing the feeling of love and labor of love, and all that entails,” Holter says. “it’s shattering, and there’s so much work in it. All of the facets of it—not just the romantic part of it but the visceral part of it.”

Covid-19 also played a role in Something. Holter says she was constantly thinking about “bodies”—their changing states of health, the somatic effects of the virus, and how she could write and record music after those experiences. It’s a release that is situated in an intense period in Holter’s life, but one that manages to find the beauty in the physical and mental limitations of that period.

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

That facet is most prominent on “Spinning,” inspired by Hélène Cixous’s Writing Blind. Cixous writes: “What we call the day prevents me from seeing. Solar daylight blinds me to the visionary day. The blaze of day prevents me from hearing.” Holter explained that living in Los Angeles, the day feels taxing at times when the amount of sunlight, and that the night is both a part of trying to find creativity and her struggle in finding it at the same time. The lyrics “Believe in night that breathes alone/ Distinct at night/ Swoop in to fill my arms/ At night” articulate this dichotomy, with Holter saying she wanted to reroute her neural pathways.

At a live listening event at New York’s Public Records, Something in the Room She Moves played on booming speakers to a captive audience. “Sun Girl” sounds less a whimsical ballad and more like a beat Pi’erre Bourne might cook up, the track’s synths and drums rattling the entire venue. The middle of the record is reminiscent of “A Day in the Life” in its transitional glory, new universes opening up the more each song unfolds. It’s an album bursting with musicality—lush, and full of affirmation, soothing and challenging at the same time.

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