The second track on Julia Holter’s Have You in My Wilderness, “Silhouette”, is for the first 3 minutes a brisk and tingling expression of a distant love. It’s perfectly pleasant with an endless supply of breezy drum-fills and fluttering violins. The last minute is different. In a sudden crescendo, the reverb on everything is cranked up and Holter’s echoes start to layer one another. The earlier percussion instruments and strings begin a nightmarish escalation that alternates between impending doom and untouchable euphoria. When the wave finally breaks and the song ends, listeners are left, gasping, washed ashore.
That sequence caps off what I’d like to think of as “art pop.” It’s a label that’s been applied to Holter’s work in the past, but it can be hard to articulate without actually hearing those instances. These are moments that leave us asking, “What was that all about?” and then beckon us to dive deeper into the less accessible “art” part of the equation. It’s not just about knocking you off your feet, but inviting you to get back up and see what else is going on — what themes brought out that moment? Where does that moment fit into a story? What did I miss?