by James Conway
Upon reading the press release accompanying the debut album from Holy Other, one gets the impression that the Manchester based producer has bitten off more than he can chew. An odd mix of styles is promised, along with some quasi-emotional guff concerning ‘feelings’, an instant red flag to the more cynical of music critics. But it’s a good job perceptions are there to be shattered, for ‘Held’ is a release well worthy of being embraced fully.
Loosely centred around the concept of experiencing the glut of emotions that come with an intense relationship, rather than the inevitable breakdown which forms the backdrop for a million-and-one other releases, including Holy Other’s debut EP ‘With U’, ‘Held’ takes the listener on a mesmerising journey through ambient dreamscapes punctuated with electronic glitches and occasional forays into laid back R&B and mature UK garage. The barely-there vocals come from a variety of different throats and serve as a more instrumental sound rather than propelling the songs forward. Appropriate, as the destination seems wholly irrelevant.
Opening track ‘(W)here’ demonstrates a strong appreciation for UK dubstep darling Burial, whose sparse, nodding sound is a clear influence felt throughout the album. Despite nearly being spoilt by an annoying glitch-effect, the track is the perfect introduction to Holy Other’s sound with its echoing synths and muted drum effects setting the mood for what’s to come. Next track ‘Tense Past’ is based around a simple 5-note melody that seems lazily euphoric in nature and helps to bolster the wave-like choral patterns being painted in the background.
‘Impouring’ breaks the mould slightly with its ethereal female vocals and twitchy drum-clicks demonstrating how R&B would sound emanating from the depths of a K-Hole before the more chaotic ‘Love Some1’ layers on the synths with joyous abandon, invoking the heady feeling of being head-over-heels in love. How sweet. ‘U Now’ employs a repetitive sound effect that could be a gun being reloaded, so perhaps the relationship has already turned sour? The muted ambience offers little in the way of explanation, as do the effects laden vocals. A good thing surely?
The droning ‘In Difference’ lives up to its title, possibly representing the inevitable boredom and complacency that kill off so many unions. The more engaging ‘Past Tension’ again features layered female vocals and a swelling melody that dissipates all too soon into the void. The title track contains an approximation of Gregorian chanting buried under the mid-paced drum patters and dual-vocal tradeoffs, before lapsing into a sedate, lounge style ambience almost reminiscent of early material by The Streets. The journey is concluded with the snail-paced barren hip-hop of ‘Nothing Here.’
Ultimately leaving far more questions unanswered than one would expect, ‘Held’ still offers several enticing nuggets of interest among its meandering soundscape. Holy Other’s longevity seems in little doubt with his measured approach to song writing so let’s hope he reveals more with his next release.