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Holy Other – Held

Album review

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Depending on what you read, the artist known as Holy Other is either an enigma shrouded in a mystery hidden inside a Burial-esque cliché, or just a bloke from Manchester who’s a bit shy. What’s not up for debate is that the time that Holy Other has spent holed up away from the intrusive glare of the music press has been pretty well spent, confirmed by this moody, immersive debut album.

Then again, we all thought that about Balam Acab’s “Wander/Wonder” album last year, and it’d be interested to see how many people are still listening to that now the hype has died down; personally it went from a twice-a-day album to a something-to-put-on-before-sleeping album to a track-pops-up-in-shuffle-occasionally album surprisingly quickly. There are quite a few parallels here too: both artists are secretive bedroom dwellers who make sparse, slow-motion excursions into crypto-R n’ B that sound like they’ve been recorded at the bottom of a mystical lagoon. Both are signed to the excellent Tri Angle Records too.

However, while “Wander/Wonder” occasionally strayed into sweet and inoffensive territory (“like Pinky and Perky’s chill-out album” as one unkind colleague put it), “Held” sticks pretty firmly to the shadows. Not to say it’s gloomy – the layered vocal samples on “Tense Past” and “Held” are quite uplifting in fact – but it does feel like it’s been lightly doused in the cold mist of Manchester rain. It’s the smaller details that draw you in though: the arrhythmic rattles and bloops on “(W)here” (slinging in the odd rhythmically contradictory element is one of Holy Other’s most effective tricks), or the sampled sharp intakes of breath on “Nothing Here”.

Most striking though is just how huge everything sounds, with lashings of reverb making even the more minimal moments soar. Yet at the same time everything also sounds highly introspective, although that impression may be partly influenced by Holy Other’s secluded public persona. Still, though he has admitted that he feels “like this “anonymity” thing is kind of coming to an end”, don’t expect a significant change in mood – in his own words, “There’s never going to be any summer vibes”. He’s found an atmosphere all of his own, and “Held” allows us to breathe it in, deeply and slowly.

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JJ DOOM - Keys To The Kuffs

JJ DOOM - Keys To The Kuffs
The introduction to "Keys To The Kuffs" features samples of miscellaneous Londoners welcoming a masked figure and warmly inviting him to "come and have a drink". It's an offer that Daniel "DOOM" Dumile has been forced to take up. A few years ago he became mired in controversy following his decision to send 'fake DOOMs', wearing his trademark metal-face mask, to perform instead of him at gigs. He must've wished he'd sent another imposter out on his 2010 European tour too, as upon his return he was refused entry back into the USA. Why? Well, it turns out that Dumile is not actually an American citizen. Born in Britain but raised in the States, he never bothered to apply for an American passport and is now indefinitely stuck in the country of his birth. Apart from being estranged from his family, the repatriation doesn't appear to have done him much harm. In fact, two years spent in South London seems to have provided some rich inspiration - this collaboration with Jneiro Jarel is the best thing DOOM's been involved with for almost a decade, when albums like "Madvillainy" and "Vaudeville Villain" saw his reputation explode. The London influence is audible right from the off, and not just in the unusual proportion of cockney voices popping up in the sample-based interludes that pepper the record. From the beguiling "Guv'nor" to the unexpected referencing of 'My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding', the smoky shadow of London looms large throughout. A few British guests are also invited to join in, with Portishead's Beth Gibbons adding some typically mournful vocals to the haunting strings that sweep through "GMO" and Damon Albarn assisting on "Bite The Thong" (although his contribution was presumably behind the mixing desk rather than the mic - there's no Gorillaz-esque pop chorus here). The album's success owes more to Jarel though, whose work with Willie Isz and Shape Of Broad Minds has already set him up as one of the most interesting beatsmiths in hip hop. Excepting the skittering rhythms of "Bite The Thong" (which recall DOOM's own beats), the producer strikes a fine balance between tuneful soulfullness ("Winter Blues") to sinister atmospherics ("Dawg Friendly"), while the dark yet tropical lilt of "Retarded Fren" is just bloody brilliant. And while DOOM's flow occasionally falters - he's clearly ill-at-ease with the tempo of "Banished" - the duo are generally exceedingly well-matched. A deftly absorbing LP, "Keys To The Kuffs" suggests that London has been kind to old Metal Face. If the yanks really don't want DOOM back Britain will be more than happy to keep him.
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