When Julia Holter was assembling the songs for her most recent album, she was seeking simplicity. Looking to ‘60s pop ballads as inspiration, she had every intention of making a stripped-down collection of simple love songs to be preformed live with just voice and piano.
Anyone who hears “Have You in My Wilderness” will realize that Holter failed to meet these intentions. Succumbing to her penchant for oblique narratives and elaborate orchestrations, she complicated her way into one of 2015’s best albums.
“I was really trying to be straightforward,” she says with a tinge of regret. “I just thought it would be a bunch of love songs. It’s not, really, but that was the starting place.”
Holter ended up with an album full of twisting melodies, rich with dark-hued strings and mysterious keyboard atmospherics, that relate tales of missed connections and longing. Though it lacks an obvious theme like her previous albums — “Tragedy” (2011) was based on Euripides’ “Hippolytus,” while “Loud City Song” was a loose reinterpretation of the MGM musical “Gigi” —“Have You in My Wilderness” is stocked with dreamlike imagery of water and wandering.
Holter has spoken often of her interest in medieval art, and the period’s aesthetic is reflected in both her baroque arrangements and in her evocative melding of lyrics and music.
“That’s one thing I don’t understand about myself,” she says of her fascination with the period’s art and music. “I think I’m drawn to the purity and oneness of it.”
She discovered medieval music while studying classical composition at CalArts. While the influence of her education remains in the complex layers of her songs, she rejected classical music in favor of work she could fully realize by herself.
RELATED: Living the Lushlife
“I’m naturally insecure, introverted, and self-deprecating,” she says. “It’s tough for me to go out and say, ‘Hey, amazing classical violinist who’s doing a million concerts at once? Can you play my crappy violin piece?’ It’s a lot easier to just record your own thing rather than have them glare at you. When I started recording on my computer on my own, it was the first time I’d ever written music that I even liked.”
If you go:
Julia Holter w/ Circuit Des Yeux
Feb. 26, 8 p.m.
1201 N. Frankford Ave.