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White Noise: Holden – The Inheritors

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

Holden – The Inheritors

Label: Border Community

After seven years of silence, James Holden’s return to production was always going to be a big event. Besides running electronica imprint Border Community and a remarkable entry into the DJ Kicks series, Holden has given fans little to chew on since his striking 2006 debut The Idiots Are Winning. It is a worryingly long gestation period, yet upon first listen to The Inheritors, all doubt falls away. With The Inheritors, Holden has produced a masterful record, a thrillingly original marriage of artistic process and visceral effect which will rank for many among the best electronic albums in recent years.

Gone Feral

There is much poetic about The Inheritors. The album takes the listener on a journey in the truest sense, forcing them to walk, run and stumble across the ever-shifting sonic terrain, in turns bucolic plateau and craggy fissure, an experience at once disorientating and mesmerising. Just as the album evokes rituals and trances alongside a distinct British mythos, one imagines Holden, who created each of these tracks in a live take on purpose-built machines and software, as a shamanic figure conducting restless, psychadelic exploration through music. As a result the album has the feel of a jam session, organic and dynamic, remarkably alive whether it sounds serene or abrasive.

The album’s rough-hewn moments come in many forms. The keening screech of opener Rannoch Dawn destroys any clear boundary between electronic and acoustic instrumentation, while early highlight The Caterpillar’s Intervention moves with a breathtaking pulse, all galloping percussion under a rhythmic melodic core, boiling to a stunning frenzy of tribal chants and a wild sax freakout. These unruly moments count among many of the album’s best: Holden wreaks havoc on predictable loops with disruptive melodies on Gone Feral, or pieces together violent distortion on Sky Burial. These tracks give the sense of formulaic electronic music breaking free from its confines in a beautiful, breathless release, most strikingly of all on title track The Inheritors, as a nervous tension is frayed to a point nearing total chaos in a storm of shuttering drum machines and searing synthlines.


Yet an album of unhinged freakouts in this vein would not be particularly listenable. Knowing this, Holden includes a number of meditative breathers, allowing the listener to regain their bearings amidst the commotion. The nostalgia-drenched arpeggios of The Illuminations are soothingly familiar, as is the cosmic, faded urgency of Delabole’s twinkling melody, building towards the album’s climactic peak. Perhaps the most accessible marriage of order and chaos comes in lead single Renata, a relatively straight-edged slice of techno where quavering synths play over a dependable kick, building to a blissful crescendo of colourful, intersecting melodies.

At nearly 80 minutes, the journey that The Inheritors takes you on can be as unsettling and exhausting as it is beautiful or revelatory. Yet it stands as a brave, adventurous statement, leaving a lasting impression while hinting that there is so much left to explore over repeated listens. Holden’s latest conjures a battle between man and music machine, order and chaos, each gaining traction and ceding ground as the album progresses. Yet by the time the listener reaches beautiful penultimate roller Blackpool Late Eighties, an involving array of starry synthwork and plucked strings, some settlement seems to have been reached – the two can coexist. While not without its moments of difficulty, The Inheritors is a storming, ambitious piece that offers untold rewards to the listener willing to embrace it.


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