James Holden - The Inheritors

A glorious mix of the human and machine.

Label: Border Community

Rating: 7

It’s been seven years since James Holden’s debut album ‘The Idiots Are Winning’. And fourteen years since his debut single. But you feel it’s only now that James Holden is ready to really make a statement about his unique talent. And ‘The Inheritors’ is it.

It’s an ambitious album – indeed Holden talked of creating a type of music that people had never heard before. And in a sense it is: this is krautrock but not exactly as we know it. It’s mixed together with techno ideas and a rave ethos. He’s described it as a kind of ‘English kraut’ and it’s certainly a singular vision he’s pursuing – there are touchpoints but nothing you can pin down. That’s because it’s a slippery album that weaves its way into your brain.

This might be part explained by the fact he built his own hybrid analogue-digital machines that were ‘complex and unpredictable beasts’ creating one off sounds that were almost impossible to replicate. ‘Everything was first takes,’ he said. ‘The Inheritors’, then, mixing old methods with brand new technology.

If all that makes it sound like this could just be very worthy but ultimately unlistenable record you’d be wrong. This is an extremely heady record, one that’s complex in only the way Holden can be but also highly listenable. Aphex Twin and Boards Of Canada would be easy comparisons but this is not really like either. It’s at times bold and bright, at others mechanical, stark and bare but it’s always with a light burning somewhere, hypnotising and alive.

‘A Circle Inside A Circle’ is brilliantly mesmerising and the jazz freakout at the end of ‘The Caterpillar’s Intervention’ shows the scope of the sounds that play a big part in how this is put together. ‘Renata’, meanwhile, is joyous, almost ravey, krautrock. Things turn darker during ‘Sky Burial’ – aptly sounding like a robot falling apart – and ‘Inter City 125’’s ominous creaks which at times could be mistaken for someone trying to carry a bed up some stairs.

The middle of the album sags slightly with ‘Delabole’ one of the weaker tracks but once ‘Seven Stars’ goes into orbit and melds into ‘Gone Feral’’s glitchy whirlwind of jarring bleeps and throbbing percussion it never lets up.
The title track is propulsive and catchy with bouncing mirrored synths and a motorik beat while ‘Circle Of Fifths’ sounds like it could soundtrack a Blade Runner remake, it’s all sci-fi soundscapes and empty cities, while the warm sunset buzz of ‘Blackpool Late Eighties’ could well be the best thing on here.

It ends with the portentous and gloriously-titled ‘Self-Playing Schmaltz’ which creaks and groans and beeps and burps  all the way to a climax. What you’re left with is a record just like James Holden’s machines – a glorious mix of the human and machine where you don’t know what you’re going to get until it happens. It’s the best kind of surprise.