Held is rather sad little album. Critically speaking, I mean that in a positive way. Solitude comes in many shades of grey; it can offer you some valuable me-time or it can deal you a crushing dose of loneliness. Holy Other walks this fine line from start to finish on his full length debut. Just when you think you can back the sound into the “chill” corner of the electronica room, it does something to remind you to reserve your judgment for later. Samples resembling all kinds of different moods are used for a singular effect—no small feat, I take it. The base elements of the music are even more tricky to pin down. Is this an ambient pad I’m hearing? Or is this supposed to make me feel something far more somber? All you know is that this won’t be a altogether smooth road. This makes Held a hard sell, but it’s still worth it.
Held is one of those albums where the moods and methods are a constantly moving target while the overall sound, somehow, comes out unified. Holy Other himself, according to his label’s website, seems hesitant to explain the album’s inspiration beyond vague hints at a crumbled relationship. Much like his compatriot Burial, Holy Other comes off as a private person who wants the music to speak for itself. And also like Burial, Holy Other has derived creative energy from urban solitude, be it good or bad.
The usual suspects—house, R&B, Gregorian chant—are lined up, get padded down and are then asked to slow down…sometimes mid-song. The opening track “(W)here”, complete with double meaning thanks to the parenthetical title, is propelled by bleeps and bloops that are at odds with the monastic samples. Push, pull, push, pull, where is here? So with that, welcome to the comforting confusion that is Held. From there, cards are dealt with even more subtlety. The pads on “Tense Past” can out-mope Moby. “Past Tensions” is desperate to repeal this mood, sending out a call in the form of a sample repeating “I want you.” Something tells me that things didn’t work out on that front. The radio-friendly start to “Impouring” in no way foreshadows the silent, dark corners in which this track eventually hides. “In Difference”, possibly one of the most emotionally compelling moments of the album, can’t resist building the track upon off-kilter rhythms while other electronic sounds share a reluctance for center stage. And it’s surprising that “Love Some1” is being pedaled as a featured track for Held, since its barely-there chord progression and overlapping vocal samples cloud any chance for mass appeal.
Yes, I mean that as a compliment once again. This is not the kind of electronic music that backs itself into a corner thanks to too many clever gestures. Holy Other’s Held is a musical response to a human emotion, a universal one. What do we do with ourselves when no one else is around to provide support? Can you carve your own way out? Or do you need to wait for another ship to pass in the night? This is deep stuff and it’s probably going to get even deeper still. The next album should be called Dropped.