Music Reviews

Holy Other Held

(Tri Angle) Buy it from Insound Rating - 8/10

Has the transitory phase of shrouding in mystery ultimately ever done an artist any favors? Wearing a cloth bag over his head on all his live sets, the Mancunian producer known as Holy Other has developed a reputation for being enigmatic, a shadowy figure whose dimly exposed by a beam of light that hardly diffuses the darkness of the stage. His silence is the sort of fiddly proposition that almost never fails – refrain from ever going into any specifics and let the music speak for itself, except for the small detail that its creator conveys this very explicitly. Because keeping yourself out of the process repels as much as it attracts attention, but at some point resisting to attach to an image becomes counterproductive to your art.

If attending a Holy Other set provides a drug-addled experience, slowly waving your head in perpetual stupor, then listening to any of his recorded material may cause a slew of morning after side effects after a night that was meant to alleviate the pain. There’s a permeating sense of tragedy in the bevy of scathing effects that make up the entirety of Held. Expressed in an almost monosyllabic manner, his first full length further expands upon the downtempo house music of With U with a defeatist outlook on life, haunted and truly affected by a failed romantic liaison that has left him detached and trapped in his emotions. There is hardly any voice that communicates this, yet the naming of these tracks sequence a calamitous implosion of unspeakable pain and suffering.

In one of the most disconcerting album openers in recent memory, (W)here feels like a masochistic battering on the senses. The low rumbling bass that creeps in the background gives a synthetic scent alongside a bout of lacerating whipping effects, coming together with what sounds like a tourniquet  that gradually applies pressure. Whereas the eerie, chipped vocals utter a cry for help, Tense Past begins to gain some clarity without losing its ominous tone. Tense Past tries to separate itself from any R&B association except that its abstractions only give it more potency, its clanking patterns and almost intolerable chipmunk vocals flanking with randomized digitalized slices as they swish like sharpening two knives against each other.

Much of the compositions in Held have an “on the spur of the moment” quality, constantly shifting in tempo and timing that it’s not unlikely to consider that a Holy Other track could have limitless versions. At times, the results can be to some extent off-putting, like in Impouring, which takes multiple percussive elements into account. Though the shining component may be its gleaming, Law & Order-like keyboard hits, what starts with an agreeable groove turns progressive – finger snaps, breathing sighs and mouth percussion all cobbled up in different time signatures – that once it comes into a close it might leave you a tad lightheaded, if besieged by so much ingenuity. Thankfully, these moments are few and far between, and once LoveSome1 goes back to an anemic pace with its nimble beats and distanced lopped vocals, there’s a strong indication that his detached frame of mind is beginning to penetrate into ours.

Held sinks into an utterly miserable state in In Difference, in which a smattering of glitched voices continually plea be my heart, glazed over one of its most memorable minor key scales; it elevates into a striking finish once it intensifies with a barely imperceptible horn-sounding line that gives the album its one moment of hope. It all culminates into the album’s title track, a six-minute opus that marks the longest from the producer thus far, which lends you to believe it’ll maintain its airy atmospheric wash in check. But then it comes into a stop, with an angelic call pointing into a moment of translucence, a white veil covering the murkiness with a thick, soulful piano chord as its accompaniment. Once Nothing Here closes with indistinct buzzing voice calling desperately, trying to free itself from captivity, it points out to how his bruises are just coming into view, cutting deeper than a superficial wound.

The strength in Held lies in how it takes electronic modulation to a more challenging path, fully conscious over the fact that the genre itself benefits when its more about the songs instead of serving as foreground listening. The album succeeds as an exercise in hermetic communication – one that heavily applies itself to the imagination and does so without articulating a complete verse. Not only is it the first touchstone in Tri Angle’s still compact discography, but one that should inform other producers that it’s more about the feeling and less about the drop.