James Holden - The Inheritors

Every good genre needs, for its own good be noted, a good kick up its backside. Just at the time when a region of sound has lost its original intention and the majority output, despite what limitations and dispose from the light of the media it might contain, has become a more-of than a much-better delivery, it's good to know that there are those artists who remain in refute to join the ranks of the tried and the tested...and the tripe. 2006 was the year electronic music had its first true wake-up call since the 90's catapult and late 80's explosion that preceded it. From the likes of [Chris] Clark's thunderous menace on Body Riddle to BT's symphonic, cinematic retrospect on This Binary Universe, these were the albums that asked more than they answered; the listener as much as the contemporaries put in their place on what is necessarily to be expected from this particular genre. James Holden's debut of the same year The Idiots Are Winning, in name terms, appears the perfect surmise of melancholy:irony ratio that electronic music was grappling with at the time - Holden's referencing perhaps to as much the artists than the higher-up's, that things had reached a new low and a troubling era in musical development. The UK-based DJ and [better-known for...] remixer was in a privileged position to give his debut release the tools with which to add a thorough and signifying context to what was, surprisingly, a minimal, simplified sometimes-skeletal record of techno glistening and house momentum. The Inheritors may, just as likely, be taken in the same contextual vein; its title both a reference to the new generation of producers/musicians trying to find their way through the tribal-esque language of electronica, in order to find meaning in pushing forward.

It's best to look at it this way, given Holden's decision to offer his long-awaited sophomore a much fresher and tonal liveliness - in both its delivery, and its posture - is apparent throughout. Rannoch Down starts this seventy-plus minute spectacle with a track that from the off feels far more transcendent and slightly alien in origin. Sounds chirp and squeeze through in pockets like tiny call signs amid a region tantalizingly on edge. The monotonous, grated guitar strings and dry percussion that build throughout, while slow, do finally meet their expectant delivery, albeit one that's not necessarily as bold or brash as the sounds before it suggest, yet the alien distancing of resurgent sounds continues and with this, there's a definite degree of atmosphere and awareness to what's going on around us. Likewise, ||: A Circle Inside A Circle Inside :|| feels more like an early point where the album has coarsely decided to remain attached and observant rather than free and venturous; it's standing as opposed to moving its way through the music presented to us. The dusty, sun-gleaming tones and textural hues Holden creates with the electronics definitely share a similar vibe to that of the new Jon Hopkins record. But here, the movement seems barely existent. Woodwind chirp and cheer in quick attention-grabbing bursts while the main lead of crinkle-cut percussion, secretive bass and breathless vocal chatter continue leading the lesser elementals of notation one after the other, like some allotted conveyor belt whereby the listener here is an observer, as opposed to an adventurer.

Things do start to feel a little less spacious (in a Universally relative manner) and more closed-off as we move onto tracks like Renta, where despite its more upbeat and leisured release of techno tones, trivalent drum beats and cymbal tints, the slightly mellower ambience to the environment gives it that more enclosed, conveyed directive, as opposed to frolicking about the presence of large bodies/masses of viewers wanting the exact same turn-about. The Caterpillar's Intervention and its sumptuous hold-steady march of drums and steel string instrumentation adds to that Holden's intention to let this sound emanate from one particular, singular source and radiate outwards, rather than letting it encompass anything and everything with which associates or even surrounds it. The jazz-like jiggling of brass that comes into play in the second half however, seems to show a less orderly and structural showing of emotion here. But even then, given how these sounds are treated with a bit more looseness sonically too - still never really washing over the clarity of percussion - what liberty of expression and improvisation feels lesser in integrity and influence overall.

But what I find interesting, and ultimately what I relish given Holden's choice of expressing these electronic tones, is that each one of these compositions tends to portray a different kind of objectivity in exactly what it is that's being presented...and more-so (thus, creating the bigger impact sensually) what given scenario this music tends to fit best towards. Take the sounds of The Illuminations' scattering of rhythmic loop-around synth notes and bubbling sub-bass, and you get perhaps a feeling that you're testing something; discovering it for what it can do and by how much, perhaps in some playful, intrigued curiosity. Lead that then with a track like Inter-City 125 and its subterranean bass and simplified percussion, makes for a scenario whereby perhaps you've only just discovered said object, only here, the object is - like that offered in the album cover - more an artifact to some alien or tribal age in its visceral imagery and indecipherable meaning and purpose. On occasions then, Holden's deliberate blurring of reasoning and definition make out for some interesting self-applied visage and give the music's fairly repeated patterns of synths and instrumentation a measure of delicateness, while still holding onto that mechanical, artificial edge that entices the listener to keep focused right through until the song's end. Not all of these attempts though prove fruitful when the loosening of his production and his delivery begins to play a more crucial role in integrating composure and intrigue into his beats.

Seven Stars, like the tracks before it, holds onto that decision in letting individual components run their course - thus, creating that similar disorder and disorganized roster of sounds scurrying and fluttering about in weightless mass. But here, Holden's reasoning and determination to find a holding, recurrent context and reasons feels a lot less present. And more-so, when he attempts to bring in a measure of melody and progress to tie the piece together, it only goes as far as to highlight the undercurrent of disconnect and disconcert these sounds have with one another. Likewise, Gone Feral (as its name suggests) appears to seek out a more wild, scathed jaggedness in its heftier drop of beats and whirling synths, but again there's no underlining progress or stand-point with which Holden offers to allow us the listener to take these sounds from. Instead, the feeling here is that there is no source material; no major boundary or starting point to which the spectator is given dictation or understanding over...and because of that, the absorbing waves of electronics and percussion feel incredibly less meaningful and critical in being the track's fundamental hook or appeal. The title track, The Inheritors, works as a result because Holden tends to reiterate as to which components offer a sense of compliance and order and which of those - in contrast, as a result - are here to break those barriers and rules governing over them. Here, Holden's beats and appliance of sound is a lot more thorough and emotively excruciating - synth tones despite hopping and skipping without further exerting its presence, the percussion - to oppose that believe - pushes and twists to its highest extremity; frequencies tightening and shifting to such a point that the vibes emanating, evolve into something more on an emotional scale than simply that of a visual or observant one.

Circle Of Fifths, is perhaps one of the key tracks to which the observer finally understands that this is an album built it seems, on some mathematical, metaphysical doctrine, and as a result of such decisions, allows the honest, untainted truth about such things as chaos and disorder to be presented as simply that of a Universal rule or law, than merely human intervention. The fact that it manages to interlink melody with tone and still conjure within me a kind of analytical, unconventional cropping of mood - similar to that of a track by Autechre or a state-of-mind from Oneohtrix Point Never - leaves me wide-eyed and quite stunned to see just how artificial and programmed such things as emotion and interactivity could potentially be...even in such generative and natural circumstances as (like the track offers) casual chitter-chatter amongst parties, or lude out-bursting of one's voice to such open voids of materialism. Some Respite too expands on the notion that the Universe may, in all manner, be that of one ominous blue-print or algebraic equation in its carriage of short-lengthed bars of vocal mutterings and synthesizer mutterings alike. But it's the attention to intensity and the components that may be found in emotion and the human mind - and what we as humans/lifeforms inject in the World - that the rhythms offered, tend to express if in a more investigative, theoretical manner via its seclusive, bottom-of-the-pack position in the track's production. Self-Playing Schmaltz is the optimistic, and somewhat enlightened sound of one who has come to a revelation and understands more about the World. The track's spacious, near-cosmic blurring of synths and sharp electronic notes sees the album sent off on not just a positive note, but one that suggests the record is finally at the decision to reach new territory in search of wider ventures - no longer the surveyor and the surveyed...but as that of the discoverer and the discovered.

There aren't many electronic albums that grasp at the more calculated, but honest simplicity of sound without coming across as either too experimental for definition or (and this is by no means a falt) turning towards more minimal and glitched methods of composition. The Inheritors sees Holden evolve his techno roots and mixing expertize, to being that of representation and reflection, as opposed to that which is more illustrative or animated. What he aims for, is to demonstrate that electronics (in their most routine of leads and rhythm) can dispell as much detail about a particular source - be it a pure form or simply an abstraction of such - as any amount of effect application or initiation of one's senses. With the viewer narrowly fixed to these focal points, like it were a gallery installation or a live performance whereby every move is critical and every shift in position is of a larger whole, the album's essence of beats and atmosphere, radiates to such immersive lengths, but ensures most of all that its repetition and absorbent ideas, cause the listener to establish contexts of their own desire. And the best thing coming away from this record is that Holden leaves the listener/viewer asking that which may potentially go unanswered; its infinity of reason and established origin is boundless, while the limitations in how the music progresses and generates further feelings, is maintained steadily throughout. While there are moments where Holden's looseness wanders too far into muddled ambiguity, it's at least consolidated by the overarching argument that music, like mathematics, is a means to observe and gain enlightenment over that which surrounds us, physical or not.

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Discovery: James Holden - The Inheritors
James Holden - The Inheritors
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