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.