Behind the Wallpaper occupies the unknown space just before a transformation is complete. Inspired by composer Alex Temple’s gender transition, the album explores themes of renewal and realization and is performed by Chicago’s Spektral Quartet and singer-songwriter Julia Holter. It mixes classical—some moments feel akin to Haydn or Schubert string quartets—with pop to tell a story of what it means to find oneself. In “Unnatural,” the transitional feeling of Temple’s music pops. Holter’s voice soars above lush, Romantic-inspired instrumentals. On the surface, sound glistens and shimmers, but there’s an underlying sense of uncertainty as strings begin to tremble and slide and Holter’s voice turns from rose-coloured hues to deeper hums. “Science Park” leans into the darkness, as ominous strings shudder beneath Holter’s voice describing the haunted location where she stands, above a nuclear reactor, and looks up at the stars. “Jolene,” similarly ominous, feels like emerging in the aftermath of a storm.
Temple tells her story through seamless mood shifts, creating an emotional narrative arc out of lyrics and melodies, and expertly capturing the feeling of metamorphosis: On the final track, “Spires,” the sound of water at a shore ushers us out with a nostalgia tinged with hope.