Review : Holy Other - Held
PitchforkAs indicated by the cover art depicting a panned out shot of rippled sheets on a bed haunted by absent bodies, Manchester-born producer Holy Other's debut album Held builds on the bedroom territory of previous EP With U to reveal a bigger, messier story. Where With U was situated in the muddled aftermath of a relationship, Held is deep in the clutch of one. Or, more precisely, concerned with the natural push-pull impossibility of oneness.
Having spent much of the latter half of 2011 and beginning of 2012 performing with a veil over his head, Holy Other stands naked on Held. The vulnerability that has become his hallmark is more potent than ever, stretched like skin across nine tracks-- or nine movements-- that trace love's arc of complex intimacy and ever-evolving emotional epiphany. Desire, neediness, vulnerability, fear, pleasure, and confusion are all laid bare. Held is a love album, a modern love album. Not love as aspirational fantasy but lived love, contradictory love-- the real love that stifles as much as it soothes. In that, it has a kinship with a generation of artists, including How to Dress Well, the xx, and Mount Kimbie, who reach to articulate love's many aspects in new ways.
The Burial-recalling distorted vocal elements Holy Other teased into being on With U are again deployed here, distilled to their base energy and impulse. Where garage, R&B, and pop all channel a predominantly feminine pressure, the power of Held balances on its call and response between both masculine and feminine elements, most notably on "Past Tension" where two voices venture "I was...I was..." back and forth to poignantly familiar effect, recalling a relationship's occasional veer into petty power struggle. How much Holy Other can say while saying very little is perhaps his greatest skill. The abstract lack of directness is somehow more direct: When all the words have been said, when the snap of their intention grows slack with overuse, only touch says what is truly meant.
The first three seconds of Held-- announcing question-and-answer track "(W)here"-- are a roar of submersion, a displacement to Holy Other's underwater world where meaning and emotion are fluid, never fixed. As if to illustrate, his slippery approach to language is extended to his titling. "Inpouring", the album's closest connection to With U, suggests a play on imploring and outpouring, and evokes that flood of emotion from one to another that can often feel like assault. Glowing with golden chimes and Janet Jackson finger clicks, "In Difference" is the flip to "Inpouring", an expression of fatigue from the latter's torrent of emotion with its delicate plea to "beat my heart," perhaps because the protagonist no longer has the energy....full text
ResidentadvisorYou could probably guess what Holy Other's debut album sounds like without ever hearing it. That's not a bad thing. It speaks to both the surprising solidity of the Manchester artist's style and the general ubiquity of this sort of eyes-down, funereal fare. But last year's With U EP managed to stick out like a throbbing thumb amidst all the soft focus dreck and Held accomplishes the same trick in 2012. His first album-length effort isn't a drastic turnaround nor even that great of a leap forward, but it is a whole lot more persuasive, mirroring label mate Balam Acab's turn from monaural to full-splendour stereo with his own Tri Angle LP last year.
"(W)here" picks up right where With U left off: liquid tides splash against a steady pulse that aligns well with UK house, but feels more like a heartbeat than a dance track. That comforting blinker is at the heart of Holy Other's unusually warm and enveloping sound, a 4/4 beat that embraces rather than pierces, with blanketing basslines that only add to the womblike shroud. What's different this time around is the rest of the textures; he prefers the bevelled shine of '90s adult contemporary, sad face electronic music that uses the palette of overwrought power ballads ("Impouring," "In Difference") instead of merely hinting at it. There's a staggered and creaky quality to the way he builds his tracks—"In Difference" sounds like it's struggling with every chord, a vocal melody that trips over itself despite its inherent simplicity.
Held is an even more vocal-heavy record than his earlier work, but these ciphers are almost entirely devoid of language. Holy Other wisely steers clear of the beyond-clichéd R&B appropriation by stretching out gasps and syllables into unnatural, filmy shapes, like the slow-motion implosions of "Love Some1," and especially the strangely piercing vocals of "Tense Past," which unspool in pure agony. Chipmunk squeak is replaced with searing anguish over a bed of sounds folding in on themselves, a crawling rhythm that feels like it's hitting a backwards stroke with every pace. The tension is released with the bookending "Past Tension," which further uncoils the track's samples into an outpouring of resigned sadness....full text
BbcHeld is the first album proper from this enigmatic producer – said to be from Manchester, although Gothenburg and Berlin have also been mooted – whose debut EP, With U, came out on Tri Angle last year.
The home of "witch house" acts Balam Acab and oOoOO, the label also signed How to Dress Well who, like Holy Other (and, for that matter, The Weeknd), appears to be involved in a project to remake RnB as a ghostly, ethereal soundtrack to the end of the world.
Unlike HTDW’s Tom Krell, however, Holy Other has yet to reveal his name or to remove the shroud from his head when he performs live. The anonymity matches the mysterious murk of the music, with its touches of not just RnB but the aforementioned witch house as well as dubstep and ambient electronica, although this isn’t cool synthesizer music so much as R&B, hip hop, pop and garage left in the cold night air.
The pace is slow, the mood is solemn verging on the sepulchral – that alias of his would appear to be a deliberate nod to the sacred properties of his favourite music (he even used to play a track called BOYZiiMEN) – and the atmosphere is glacial....full text
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- 1. Love Some1