Holy Other - Held

One of the most powerful records to be released in a very long time.

Label: Tri Angle

Rating: 8

Artists often take advantage of anonymity. Emerging artists, in particular, could openly perform a grand speech in front of a crowd of thousands, yet wouldn’t dare show a face in association with their music. Are they acknowledging that mystery and disguise adds to the intrigue of a new artist as well as making use of the fact? Is Holy Other simply a shy retiring figure who’d rather drape a hood over his head and use his sampler as a shield, or is he in fact adding fuel to the fire by allowing himself to remain a shrouded figure? Usually this matters. Usually there’s a debate to be had. But there wasn’t for Burial and there isn’t for Holy Other. Neither William Bevan (and who cares if it isn’t) or this Manchester producer need their hoods upturned. Because the music really speaks for itself. Far beyond some press release that might claim it, there’s something truly special at play here, so much so that if you finish ‘Held’ with a question of identity on your mind, you’ve probably been listening to the album backwards.

There’s a lot more to concern yourself with: such as, why do you end up feeling so uncomfortable and claustrophobic when the spilled-out sounds of ‘Nothing Here’ depart for the final time? How can a record grip you as much as this one, pull you into its grasp and give you the psychological state of someone with a guilty conscience? ‘Held’ creeps up on you, more so than last year’s ‘With U’ EP. It tells you that someone’s watching, whether you’re in complete daylight walking to work or if it’s accompanying the closing of a day. Nothing is in control here; you’re simply exposed to the elements.

And that’s a perfectly fine thing, so long as you can shrug the tension from your shoulders and ease yourself into a truly unique sonic achievement. If Homer’s ‘The Iliad’ were a reality, ‘Tense Past’’s vocal sample would represent the Sirens. It’s as if this producer has discovered the sweetest sound imaginable and applied it to a distant backdrop of similarly dreamy colours, with the femmes fatales luring you ever closer to an unlikely death. Everything that follows is like the inevitable reality; oddly comforting but totally devastating. The title-track’s closing section could slot into the dystopian picture of a Chromatics album, but there’s something sinister lurking within the stop-start beats and the brutally pitch-shifted vocals.

But that’s just one interpretation. For the greatest strength of ‘Held’, and Holy Other’s work as a whole, is that it works equally as well as an antidote as it does a poison. Regardless, it’s a potent device that rarely relinquishes its firm hold of your attention. This producer has either locked himself up in a dark bedroom for many, many years, or he’s found solace and peace and he’s projecting the very sound of his discoveries. It’s up to your own mood and setting to see which one strikes you first. But you’ll be struck; struck by something more than a strange intrigue in the producer’s mystique; struck by a sound that commands every waking moment of your contemplation. It’s one of the most powerful records to be released in a very long time. Anonymity can live another day.