XLR8R's top pick for the Best Releases of 2011 was a five-song EP called With U, the first sizeable release issued by Manchester producer Holy Other. We also named him one of the year's best new artists, and it should be obvious why: Holy Other arrived with an arguably unique sound and shrouded aesthetic which were fully formed and irresistable from the start. Even when the vitriol for "witch house" was hitting critical mass, critics and fans would always seem to grant the UK artist a pass, citing his tasteful use of poignant R&B and the fact that he sounded more like he was meticulously crafting slow-motion house music than banging out gothy rap beats. Holy Other had a good thing (some might say a great thing) going since day one, so its no real surprise that very little has changed on his debut LP for Tri Angle, Held.
Holy Other's album is essentially the second manifestation of With U, complete with all of the extra detail and depth that a year's time can allot a budding and unquestionably talented producer. His dark sonic underworlds now seem to quake with the vibrations of sub frequencies instead of merely rumbling with deep low end; his swaying rhythms thump and ring out with a newfound clarity; his beloved vocal samples appear to have multiplied, and now flit about from all angles like a choir of disembodied seraphs cooing their mangled songs. And everything sounds as if it were created and rendered in an isolation chamber. The glow of warm chords, the twinkle of chiming percussion, and the distant cries in album standout "Tense Past" seem to calmly bob and float atop of a syrupy bassline, as if it was all meant to help induce a kind of meditation. Following track "Impouring" does much of the same—albeit with a more spare sound pallette—and also features one of Holy Other's latest tricks: tempo change. Whether gradually speeding things up or bringing the bpms down a handful of ticks, the producer uses these alterations as added emphasis for his already vibrant soundscapes. Like on the brilliant flip at the center of "Held," Holy Other has the ability to merge two completely different moods with a seamless transition that can feel like an oddly euphoric drug comedown. As the swirl of glassy synths cradles the song during its descent, touchingly austere piano chords usher in "Held"'s final moments and effectively solidify the moving production as the LP's premier cut.
But the ultimate truth of the matter is that Held feels as if it is lacking... something. It's admittedly difficult to pin down exactly what that "something" is, but what's most apparent is that the almost palpable emotional undercurrent that ran throughout With U seems to have taken a backseat to the focus on production quality. While a song like "Past Tension" sounds brighter and relatively hopeful compared to the album's predominantly sullen overtones, it pales in comparison to the dawn-hued rays of light—as heard on "With U" and "Feel Something"—that helped make Holy Other's 2011 EP so captivating and fully realized. Thanks to some uplifting strings and lofty vocal harmonies, album closer "Nothing Here" does have a silver lining around its groaning, shadowy core, which is entirely rewarding at the start. But after a slow build up and a few minutes of riding out his plodding beat, Holy Other lets the incandescent motif simply stop and fade away. It sounds almost like he ran out of room on his hard drive, and had to cut off his track before it had a chance to completely resolve. Needless to say, it makes for an underwhelming close to an otherwise tenderly crafted and beautifully arranged debut album from a producer who has already proven his worth and will undoubtedly have plenty more bright moments in his future.