Friday, 31 August 2012

Holy Other - Held

 

Acts like Holy Other owe a lot to the re-envisioning of contemporary electronic music. Closer to [our] home, UK's increasing garage scene and 2-step rhythms showed those with little knowledge of the World to speak up and express themselves. But so too, the cross-atlantic revolutionaries of RnB and hip-hop - that took such simple elementals and forged an entirely new identity within itself - are worthy of mention all the same. These two collectives may not exactly stand shoulder to shoulder in their present state, but there is still that sense that this is a sound fully basking in the shining bliss of libertarian-like experimentation and unity of composites, that was so dominant in the late 90's on both sides of the pond. It's no wonder then that here, this young Mancunian on his full-length debut 'Held', presents himself as a man who takes to these delves in experimentation like a moth to the flame. And coming from the same city that has brought us such respected pioneers of all-round multi-branching electronic music - from the early house architects of 808 State, to the latter venturers between the physical and the abstract via The Future Sound of London - Holy Other is a man on a mission of discovery. A discovery of his sound, and the sound, as a result, of discovery itself.

From the word go, the sounds that tread across in muddy stepping-stones of motion are deep and cavernous. Opener '(W)here' is like an open mouth to a cave, yawns and moans of droned vocals and padded electronics trickle and tumble through the darkening ambience. All the while, the glitchy stop-start rhythm of both the bass and clattering beats overhead fill the space with even more claustrophobic nerviness - this foggy billowing of sound growing more and more closer before it crumples and fades into oblivion once more. 'Tense Past' a similarly compact-yet-tremblingly-wide offering pushes even more emphasis on the use of sampled vocals and their incorporation into the song's inhaling/exhaling texture. Reminiscent of current musical experimenters like Four Tet, Bonobo and even the likes of Caribou, vocals and instrumentation become interwoven with one another - losing all natural identity, and instead, purposely blurring the line to the point where obscurity is the key.

It's not something that comes across as pretentious or losing itself in indulgent experimentalism, but it is still a recurrent theme - and recurring palette of sound - that comes through in Holy Other's material. 'Inpouring' could be seen as one of the album's more gloomier and deeper-rooted tracks - 2-step and garage clearly tapped into within the track's tense beat arrangement and vocal choppiness. And on an album that, collectively, is as compact and as direct in its focus, this is certainly a song that gets straight to the matter and makes no attempt to fill in any unwanted gaps or spaces. It's that very decision - or rather lack of - that keeps listeners glued to this young man's sound. It's a style that is often more honest - be it, brutally or even outright bluntly in its fermentation - and approachable to an outsider like you and me, not just on the musical side (unchallenged by such elements as noise or intensity) but on the relational side too. The depth and emotion flowing through this record pulls the listener in. And like many a record before it within this genre - where the collage of vocals and instrumentation, with electronic acting as the supposed glue melding it all together - the album's beauty lies beneath all the trajectories of vocal highs and electric bleeps.

'U Now' sees Holy Other truly testing his dubstep ideas; some possibly finding a similarity with James Blake here, in the way his glitchy indecisiveness in rhythm and composition cuts through the drone of vocals that wane somewhere between the foreground and the background of the music. But unlike Blake, Other doesn't leave the track wide open and hollow - the bloated drone and hum of ambient synths inflating the track to the point where it's almost about to rocket itself away from reach. 'Past Tension' by comparison takes all the safety and insecurity of Other's previous attempts and throws it out up in the air as if to be rid of it. Instead, the wail of looping strings and jargon of vocals, strike atop the empty percussion hits that hit the track with a jagged hop of rhythm. Listening to this - and the way the intensity of the instruments clash against the harmony of the vocals - certainly reminds me of Oneohtrix Point Never and his recent display of emphasis on samples and repetition. And just as that record showcased so magnificently last year, Other in 2012 succeeds in smothering all this tension and swirl of thought with wave upon wave of reverb and similarly-drowning effects - transforming the solidarity of the music into an almost liquidizing surreality.

'Held', the title track - and the longest on the album - is more of an elevatory rise than a sudden drop down as were the previous tracks. The hum of bass is what steers this forth, aided too by the trailing of rooted beats and glisten of vocals reaching above and beyond the rest of the composition. But for a six-minute long track, and one that far contrasts the other shorter more snapshot-like moments on this album, the progression here feels far more panned, as if stretched into some musical panoramic. While this isn't necessarily a bad thing, it does raise some suggestions as to Other's abilities when moving away from the more simply-led ideas - ones where listener access is somewhat tested, and patience is a virtue meant for more than just the sounds before us. It's a risky card to play, and it does leave an impossibly ignorable question as to the variance Other is willing to show in future ventures.

Most great slow-burners, as 'Held' here clearly is, don't usually sway too much from the musically psionic field they've generated. Rather, they stay put and simply wait for the obstruction to come to them. But instead of patience, Holy Other's field of both expertise and state-of-mind, here takes us on some of the most exploringly descents into spacious open-air sound, without running the risk of losing sight of the exit. At the same time however, that same consistency suggests an artist who is clearly interested in bringing this lonely narrative of eery beats and ghostly vocals, that it feels he's willing to sacrifice what humanity this album is tampering with, in order to express itself to the fullest. But above all, what I find interesting about this album - and thus, why it strikes such a strong and deeply-rooted chord with me as an individual - is the way Holy Other has managed to take from such passionately personal influences as garage and dubstep (through the music) and RnB (through the vocals) and pull to the forefront, the metaphysical mystery of it all. And it's the philosophical wavering of this debated wonder, this questionable mystery, and here specifically, this air of analysis, that breathes such non-earthly life into an album that, in large portions, feels more ghostly and gaseous than it is human and physical.
~Jordan

8.2

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