Available on: Tri Angle Records
Witnessing the development of an artist is a tense moment for all interested parties, and is especially true where albums are concerned. When working as a producer, the best creative results are often found in the steady progression of singles and EPs; as a songwriter, the album is the revered format to reveal your current state of development, honed over God knows how long since the last time you dared to do so.
Those caught somewhere in the middle, such as Holy Other, are therefore in a situation that could go either way. It makes sense for an artist creating emotive, introspective music to have the durational space to present a concept, but how this will fare for a lone, independent bedroom producer with just the one EP of semi-dance music to their name is an unknown.
Held, Holy Other’s debut long player, proves to be a resounding success. Very much the ‘journey’ a listener would want, all material presented is of a consistently strong standard with no filler, a vision that easily fills its just-under 40 minutes with plenty of appreciation left for wanting more.
Album opener ‘(W)here’ is a fitting introduction to the themes explored throughout the record. Grinding up from nothing into a thick, cogs-and-molasses flow, layers of drones and percussive bubbles work gently against each other to create a subtly off-kilter whole. A surprise drop around half way through, to sparser arrangement, double-time feel and gentle acceleration, compliments it perfectly. Such elements are the main tools by which Holy Other constructs the tracks that follow, a close meshing of non-standard formats applied to more familiar, absorbable, yearning pop emotion, all reflected through their disjointed titles’ wordplay.
The result is a range of welcome techniques to hear in contemporary dancefloor music; the unexpected changes of tempo in ‘Inpouring’ and ‘In Difference’, the subtle introduction of double-time kicks in ‘U Now’, the bright ambiguity of title track ‘Held’s development, and many others. Album finale ‘Nothing Here’ is particularly mesmerising, provocative whimpers jutting around constantly collapsing strings and slipping, oscillating percussion, the whole song billowing incredibly slowly.
Such points highlight Holy Other’s prowess with musical structure particularly, but every track in Held has something eerily effective about it. A possibility is that this is largely down to the material chosen for layers and how they move, often in the use of short loops interacting with each other unpredictably. Some elements, however, are simply effectively unusual, such as the strained, adult-baby vocal utterings of ‘In Difference’ (seemingly saying ‘eat my heart’).
Snatches of stylistic elements, too, such as the subdued 808 footwork rim shots in ‘U Now’ or r ‘n’ b thumb piano of ‘In Difference’ are also successfully used without sounding like trend-related borrowing. Yet just as much as these it is the subtler details – tiny filtering gestures, application of expressive vibrato and tremolo at choice moments, subtle uses of distortion, a keen control on how parts rise and fall in intensity in the mix – all perfectly complimenting the productions as a whole that makes Held sound particularly well constructed.
There will, of course, be comparisons to Burial; re-pitched vocal cuts, moody strings, thick, filtered pads, and occasional use of gestural samples as percussion all resemble his style closely. While it is already happening gradually, a further move away from these would be welcome to experience some new territory and what Holy Other can apply there.
With further expansion of his choice of instrumentation it seems like he will only go from strength to strength. However, Held shows a remarkable accomplishment in other areas of song writing often far harder to implement and convey when coming from a ‘production’ angle, and achieved in a very short space of time too. In both musical and studio accomplishment Holy Other has come into his own as strong, individual, musical voice; Held is a strong display of this and is going to make a lot of people very happy indeed.