The follow-up debut LP of Holy Other with Held, following the 2011 release of his debut EP, With U.
I wont beat around the bush, I didn’t enjoy With U all that much. Even having gone back over it with hindsight I still don’t. There’s a very tired predictability to it all with its slow, witch-house beats and weird bloops. Yes, I appreciate the fact that it is widely acclaimed but I personally just couldn’t into it, so I wasn’t really looking forward to Held all that much, but I was actually quite pleasantly surprised.
Ok sure, it’s still predictable and it hasn’t really yielded anything unexpected, but I’m kind of digging this sound a lot more than before for some reason. For a start I’m pleased that there is not only an audience for witch-house as a genre still, but that artists like Holy Other that are adhering to some of its original sonic styles. I mean, it’s nice to see artists like Purity Ring build (heavily) on the sound and for others like Lake Radio to evolve and develop offshoots in new directions, but it’s good to see that the sound hasn’t been lost to the aether.
Held’s sound is not exactly as easy to compartmentalise as being simply “witch-house” however, that is too sweeping a generalisation. Holy Other brings together a variety of bold sounds from a variety of genres, mixing ambient dub with RnB. Chopped and mismatched vocal fragments litter the record, from female vocal coos to disjointed and unintelligable lyrical segments of seemingly androgynous origin, but like everything on this album they serve a distinct purpose, and that is to build and sustain atmosphere.
In fact, these snippets of voice do more than Purity Rings managed in their album earlier this year with their fully fleshed out songs. Holy Other’s well crafted productions use big but tight beats as a framework to support the sparse electronic melodies and choppy vocals. Most of the album languishes in a downtempo melancholy, as is immediately obvious from the opener “(W)here)”, which evolves slowly and with resignation over its 6 minute span. Other tracks like “U Now” and even the, perhaps optimistically named, “Love Some1” there is still an unshakeable sense of sadness. A huge amount of the emotional resonance does come from those very precisely manipulated vocal snippets, and it’s especially obvious in the title track where we get a glimpse of the original sample immediately juxtaposed with a down-pitched version which brings down the tone and message immediately.
Through all that introspection and depression, however, as can be seen from the track names and even the album title itself, this is rooted in love and intimacy. The minimalism of the tracks strips them back to the bare bones of their meaning; we don’t need an excess of complex and ambiguous lyrics or extravagant melodies to put a message across, a principle that ambient is founded upon and is used extremely well here. While there is no real diversity and suffering also from the aforementioned predictability, it helps keep everything very consistent and the album as a whole really feels like a solid entity as a result.
Surprisingly its runtime is only 35 minutes or so, but Holy Other’s expertly crafted tunes make time dilate and it seems to stretch out for so much longer. Bitesized and digestible, certainly, but still pretty heavy. Demands something of a closer listen to really appreciate though in my opinion; samey enough for casual listening but with enough substance for scrutiny.