Holy Other appeared in a shroud of sweat and smoke last year with an excellent Tri Angle debut, With U, an EP that, despite its obvious Burial comparisons, stuck around while others toiling in the no-man’s-land of “post-dubstep,” blog-based dreary eyed electronic got swept away in the cycle of daily site updates. Held‘s existence, alone, is a testament to Holy Other’s longevity and Tri Angle isn’t usually in the business of making bum investments. Holy Other’s first LP arrives a little over a year after With U and it sees the English producer making some obvious and successful strides to distinguish himself.
Those who were drawn to With U for its cumulative beat dynamics and soggy skinned textures won’t be disappointed–Held still feels trapped in a bedroom, as evidenced by its cover–but Holy Other’s general attitude has seemed to have shifted. Held is often pointedly angsty and raw where With U was content to get lost in ambiguity and overt dreaminess. Held still feels tied to the subconscious, but here there’s some toothy, malcontented experimentalism that rears up out of the record’s lush confines and it gives Held a striking edge that not only sets it apart from With U, but most others working in the same cloudy UK garage-influenced electronic. The left-side approach shows up mostly in the percussion, which often feels jagged and bony, sticking out sharply from a bed of whispered synth and vocal textures. Near “(W)here”‘s back half the beat starts to gain speed like a rising heartbeat and on “In Difference” Holy Other strips everything else bare leaving a throbbing kick rattling alone into the darkness before a climactic gush of sound floods back in.
Holy Other has accounted for the subtle shift by pitching the record as a chronicle of a failed romantic entanglement, which is certainly fitting territory for this producer to mine, but it’s striking how specifically he adheres to the relationship’s emotional arc made evident by the routes he takes on the aforementioned tracks. The way Holy Other approaches these productions as a sort of internal, subconscious monologue of bodily noises, literal and figurative, is what makes this record as striking as it is. Romantic disillusionment is traditionally a lyrical subject, but it’s fascinating and resonant to listen to someone trying to chart its course without using words. The obvious comparison to make is Holy Other’s Tri Angle labelmate, Balam Acab. Both producers seem to drive their music with emotions first and foremost, warping house, hip-hop, bass, and ambient structures and letting tempos, beat patterns, and intensity-levels conform around a collage of aching, volatile emotions and it makes for a deeply human and affecting form of beat music.
It isn’t worth approaching Held purely from a conceptual standpoint, however. Holy Other puts the full-length format to good use, letting the album’s sonic themes unfurl and stew across its full thirty-five minute run. Held is still full of wafting vocal cries, anguished melodies, and pillowy synth mosaics, but with the ofttimes off-kilter approach the album forms a rich sensory maze of right-angles, unending curves, and carved out nooks and crannies. “(W)here” culminates into a dead sprint, pleading vocals spooling in and out of a porous wall of sleep. “Impouring” descends into a gothic pool of puddled synths, little spurts of drum’n’bass percussion starting and stopping. “Love Some1” and “U Now”‘ are storms of weirdly timed vocal samples threatening to collapse in on each song.
The title track standout is a contorted wonder, starting out straightforward enough, a beautiful vocal sequence curling around a driving 4/4, before somehow wriggling through a chord change, clamping to a funereal drum pattern, and deploying a revelatory piano sample that simply bellows into the silence. This kind of high-emotion, omni-genre electronic music is becoming the measure of artists working without geographical or scene ties and Held is one of the best examples. It focuses what made With U such a compelling listen into something that’s completely Holy Other’s own.