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Julia Holter explores the human body on new album “Something in the Room She Moves”

The beautiful art pop record is aqueous and intricate

As a whole, the album is reminiscent of the age-old maxim that we’re made mostly of water.
Photo courtesy of Domino Music
As a whole, the album is reminiscent of the age-old maxim that we’re made mostly of water. Photo courtesy of Domino Music

Inspired by her newborn daughter, singer-songwriter Julia Holter’s sixth studio album, “Something in the Room She Moves,” abounds with childlike playfulness. Holter, who began recording her dazzling new record while pregnant at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, wasn’t consciously trying to make an album about motherhood, but her pregnancy inevitably writhed its way into her music. In fact, in the bright, buoyant and belling “Evening Mood,” Holter samples a recording of her own ultrasound. 

Appropriately, the ambient pop opener, “Sun Girl,” is a sort of sophisticated nursery rhyme. “Sun may, some girl / Sun maze, some girl / Outrun, dream day / Dream day, guess game,” she dreamily coos, the melody bobbing up and down. The record’s unusually pristine production shines through the most on this track, making the song shimmer. “Sun Girl” is an impressively mixed euphony of flute, bass, piccolo, mellotron, keys and percussive flourishes. 

Halfway through the opener, the nursery rhyme corrodes into an instrumental passage with devastating bass along with squeaking saxophones and bagpipes. Songs on “Something in the Room She Moves” change drastically without warning and revert back just as fast. “Sun girl, sun girl / Sun may, some girl,” Holter begins again. 

Holter’s fourth album, “Have You in My Wilderness,” constituted a quintessential art and chamber pop record that greatly expanded the singer-songwriter’s exposure. But her 2018 follow-up “Aviary” renounced earworms and catchy hooks in favor of intricate, dense compositions. “Something in the Room She Moves” is similarly complex and demands much attention from listeners. Her rich melodies are still there, but they often need to be excavated from the lush soundscapes that Holter crafts around them. Though art pop is the easiest way to classify the music, the record also features moments of jazz, rock and psychedelic folk. 


In addition to evoking childlike play on her album, Holter attempted to create “a realm that’s waterlike, fluid, evoking the body’s internal sound world,” according to a post she made on Instagram. Sampling her ultrasound was an easy way to achieve this, but the record in many other ways is aqueous and bodily. The music at times rumbles like an upset stomach; synths bend and pulse like blood racing through arteries. The instrumental track “Ocean” sounds as though it could soundtrack an undersea episode of “Planet Earth,” or even the body’s own subterranean activities. The album as a whole is reminiscent of the age-old maxim that we’re made mostly of water. 

The album momentarily relinquishes its aqueous atmosphere with the song “Spinning,” where a propulsive beat and synth drive the song forward. Holter’s lyrics are abstract — a recurring phenomenon on the record. “Taping all the reruns every night / The porpoise is clear,” she sings. Puns, wordplay and fantastical imagery collide; Holter isn’t interested in offering listeners any explanations. “When you’re fish / You’re terrific,” Holter sings.

Fans of Holter’s music know that the singer likes to conclude her records with a sad and cryptic closer — a signature of hers. “Who Brings Me” is a worthy addition to her catalog. “Who brings me? / Who carries me along / With the algae and the foam?” Holter asks over lamenting strings and a clarinet. The childlike atmosphere Holter begins the record with is replaced with maturity, pensiveness and even sublimity. She answers her questions as she repeats “you” over and over at the end of the song. It’s unclear to whom she is referring: maybe her child, her lover or perhaps even the human body itself, carrying her along.


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