After drawing on Greek tragedies and MGM musicals for her earlier albums, it would be hard for Julia Holter to find loftier sources of inspiration. On Have You in My Wilderness, she resizes her ambition to a more intimate scale. If her previous album, Loud City Song, had the heft of a novel, this one plays like a collection of short stories. Holter remains as literary as ever on these songs; her influences include Christopher Isherwood's The Berlin Stories -- on the torchy "How Long," she takes a sultry, Sally Bowles-meets-Nico turn -- as well as the novella Chance Acquaintances by Colette, whose Gigi begat Loud City Song. Wilderness' bite-sized approach makes it easier to savor the breathtaking beauty of Holter's music, and fits her meditations on closeness and distance. The "you" and "me" implied in the album title are united, and separated, by unpredictable emotions ("Show me how you make your second face," she urges a lover on "Night Song"). While songs like the charming opener "Feel You," which offers a glimpse of a rainy day in Mexico City with a companion who might not even be real, aren't strictly autobiographical, they feel genuine. Loud City Song started this warming trend, most palpably on the gorgeous, slow-motion deconstruction of Barbara Lewis' "Hello Stranger." A similar tenderness graces Have You in My Wilderness' title track: even as Holter asks "Why do I feel you running away?" she sounds nearer than ever, thanks to producer Cole Marsden Greif-Neill's spotlight on her vocals. The clarity of her voice matches the immediacy of her writing, which manifests itself in remarkably catchy songs like "Everytime Boots"' country-pop, and in some of her most sensuous imagery. She notes how sweet a boxful of oranges smells, and how clear water looks. Water is at the heart of Wilderness, from the flow of its songs to the way its characters are surrounded and isolated by it. "Lucette Stranded on the Island" sounds as beautiful, vast, and dangerous as the sea, with angelic strings, piano, and harmonies giving a deceptive sweetness to its tale of a woman robbed and left to die by her lover. "Sea Calls Me Home" dives into uneasy freedom as Holter cries "I can't swim!" while the harpsichords from the Beach Boys' "God Only Knows" compel her deeper into the waves. As always, Holter's adventurous choices are much more than theoretical exercises. The escalating strings and prepared piano ratchet the tension of "Betsy on the Roof" to almost unbearable levels, while "Vasquez"'s spacy jazz fusion is fittingly mercurial as it ponders who the good and bad guys really are. While it's tempting to say Have You in My Wilderness is her most personal music yet, it might be more accurate to say that it's her most approachable: this time, her brilliance demands a lot from her listeners, but also meets them more than halfway.
AllMusic Review by Heather Phares