Holy Other‘s Held is a dark, vulnerable, understated release that never really breaks expectations for those familiar with ambient dub or, if you prefer, “witch house.” Artists such as Balam Acab and Andy Stott have already explored the myriad bellows, vocal distortions, and wood cracks that abound throughout the sonic landscape — Holy Other chooses to stay within these grounds as he ponders new perspectives, frameworks and takes on the established aesthetic. The final product is certainly a grower — I was far from blown away after my first couple listens, but as each unexpected moan, creek and change of pace became more familiar, the deeply euphonic and emotional dimensions of the record unfolded.
In a genre dominated by build-ups and breakdowns Holy Other creates a surprisingly circular cadence in his work. The various effects never seem to jump out at the listener; instead most songs start with a foundation of sounds acting as tiny gears that pull some of the more evocative sections into and out of focus. The end result is both lucid and mildly disorienting as the listener finds him/herself in the middle of the rotating parts, each with its own color, weight and diameter. Perhaps there’s no truer example of the orbital swing than on “Tense Past” — in only the second of nine tracks, Holy Other deftly layers powerful drum kicks, disappearing symbols and desperate vocal samples to create an end result that feels like a deliciously slow rendition of Gold Panda.
The manipulation of vocal samples has been a bustling focal point of electronic music for some time. The effects by nature almost always evoke an emotional reaction even if the actual words have been obscured beyond recognition. While tough to “sex” sometimes, Holy Other seems to maintain a conscious balance between the masculine and feminine voices that dwell within Held. In effect, the choice helps create a faint semblance of a relationship-based narrative. It’s impossible to pinpoint the specifics but with a roughed-up, empty bed on the cover and a dark closing track titled “Nothing Here,” I’m guessing things didn’t end with roses.
About that ending — Held‘s last two songs, the title track and “Nothing Here,” may be its strongest. The former is the disc’s most sprawling composition, a pounding bass and confused voices form the first half while uncharacteristically lush piano chords populate the final two minutes. “Nothing Here” could have probably been a successful closer had it merely faded quietly off into silence, but Holy Other sweetens the ride with celestial echoes and crisp wooden clicks that end the album with a tinge of optimism and buoyancy.
One’s overall enjoyment of Holy Other’s Held will likely hinge upon the listener’s comfort level with “witch house.” Cringe-inducing name aside, the musical family maintains a distinct sense of space within the artists’ creations that likely stems from the genre’s embrace of natural sounds and brooding, heavily atmospheric movements. And while the use of vocal samples abounds throughout witch house, the resulting “spaces” often feel barren, desolate and ghostly. On Held, Holy Other undoubtedly exists within these same spaces, but his ghostly vocal samples divulge some of the thoughts, feelings and desires of the aural spirits his peers had revealed but not yet fully understood.
Balam Acab – Wander / Wonder
BNJMN – Black Square
Shlomo – Places EP
Stream: Holy Other – “Held”