Britain has always served as the vanguard of the ever-growing, ever-marching electronic music movement. In the 1980s, feverish warehouse-dwelling Britons re-engineered Acid House, turning an American creation into something distinctly local and launching the storied European rave era in the process. In the mid ’90s, renowned English duo Orbital took the world by storm with its accessible yet substantive dance music, an immensely popular blenfd of fast-paced beats and warm tones that electrified the mainstream. Around the same time, Scottish pioneers Boards of Canada produced some of the most beloved and influential downtempo works in existence, paving the way for innumerable artists and laying the groundwork for the downtempo genre itself.
In these dark days of Dubstep and Madonna-esque techno pop fusion, it’s nice to know that Her Majesty’s isles are still fertile musical breeding grounds where electronic innovators are born regularly. Holy Other is one of these forward-thinking sons of Britain. A relative newcomer to the music scene, Holy Other rarely reveals his face onstage, preferring instead to conceal it with a black veil. This enigmatic aura may be a dark stab at stage presence, but it is more than likely an extension of the artist’s haunting musical style.
On his debut effort “Held,” the masked Holy Other leaps into the void. Complete with muffled R&B vocals and delicate, ghostly layering, the album occupies the turbulent space between waking and sleep, between consciousness and distortive slumber.
“W(here),” the opening track, is a lullaby carried on an uneasy current, a pulse that gives the drowsy song an edge. This struggle between sleep-inducing softness and ominous undertones defines the album. Songs like “Inpouring,” “Love some1” and “U now” add dreamy female vocals to intricate webs of fragile, voluminous sound, creating whispering amalgams of subdued pop and otherworldly aural experimentation. “Past Tension” and the title track “Held” take this combination one step further, forging a wistful, almost mournful mixture of vocals and hushed electronic complexity. “Nothing Here” begins with inhalations and deep, gentle bass, a peaceful undertow that supports a serpentine feminine soprano.
With its slippery beats and beautiful piano interludes, “Held” is undoubtedly the most powerful track on the album, but the LP must be viewed as an uninterrupted effort. Like all great albums, “Held” is a complete musical thought, a cohesive work that creates and refines a distinctive mood. R&B vibes, ghostly choruses and undefinable spectral slivers slide through its ether, making the album appropriate for quiet nights, barren autumn days or meditative states.