It’s no secret that Julia Holter is one of this decade’s most important musicians. Four albums into her career, Holter has time and again created records as immersive and rich as they are complex and layered. She is a rock solid live artist, too, with focused performances that bring the often hazy romance of her studio recordings into sharp relief. ‘In The Same Room’, then, is an intriguing proposition; a live-in-the-studio record documenting her August 2016 set, cut at London’s prestigious RAK Studios.
Citing the legendary Peel Sessions as a conceptual genesis point, ‘In The Same Room’ seeks to couple the heady atmosphere of Holter’s live set with the sonic clarity and precision of a high quality studio recording – and it couldn’t be more of a success. In a discography of well produced albums, ‘In The Same Room’ stands out as the most beautifully recorded of them all with each instrument occupying it’s own space and every note it’s own separate entity. Holter’s work benefits from rich production more than most – it is music made to soar and the ear of a like-minded producer helps with that no end.
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The track list draws heavily on Holter’s 2015 masterpiece ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ but does also give the nod to 2013’s ‘Loud City Song’, and even resurrects a cut from 2011’s full length debut ‘Tragedy’. It’s a shame that 2012’s superb ‘Ekstasis’ is left out of proceedings – especially as ‘In The Same Room’ derives its name from one of the latter’s key songs – but with an hour of music, there’s no shortage of content on display here.
The album ranges from drastic reworkings to relatively faithful interpretations of the source material – ‘In The Same Room’ is ultimately at its best when it deviates most from the original arrangements. However, even when it sticks closely to the source material, the album shines. Opener ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ trades the urgent, undulating rhythm of the original for a swirling, mysterious reverie quite unlike anything else Holter has done. It’s a treat to hear one of her most frequently played songs presented in such unique form and gives a fascinating look at the song from a totally different angle. ‘So Lillies’ likewise takes the sparse electronica and ambient field-recordings of the original and swaps them for a more organic arrangement that makes the song more accessible but no less rewarding.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most recent material is presented more faithfully to the original versions. Both ‘Silhouette’ and ‘Feel You’ – standout tracks from ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ – sound much as you’d expect them to. Stripped of the lush overdubs and string arrangements of their counterparts, they’re unavoidably less elaborate but this only serves to highlight the purity and clarity of the actual songs. The sparser arrangements necessitated by a small band even benefit ‘How Long?’ – a song whose winding melancholy is only enhanced by the sonic clarity of the rerecording.
During live shows, ‘Vasquez’ and ‘Lucette Stranded On The Island’ – the two lengthiest cuts on ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ – have traditionally been the times at which Holter and her band have stretched out and begun to really improvise and explore. Here things are no different, with both songs comfortably expanded beyond their original vision and run-times. Whilst the ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ versions represent the most concise, direct interpretations, the takes on show here represent the most immersive, exciting way to experience these tracks. They don’t rework the originals so much as take what was already there and run with it, creating some glorious results in the process.
The live cut of ‘Betsy On The Roof’, on the other hand, doesn’t prolong the original by more than a few seconds, but it does give the song an adrenaline shot half way through and the already climactic finale is given an increasingly chaotic, dizzying new lease of life. Once again, it doesn’t better the original, but it does act as a fresh new look at a wonderful song.
‘In The Same Room’ is an album doubtless aimed at existing fans. Whilst it’s not a bad place for newcomers to start – it’s no less accessible than the majority of her work – ‘Have You In My Wilderness’ is perhaps still the recommended starting point. For those already enamoured by Holter’s rich, original songs this is an album that provides a fresh look at some of her best work and, for that, it’s a must listen.