Holden: The Inheritors (Border Community)
James Holden’s second full-length album on his own BC imprint is likely to throw his fans for a loop. It couldn’t be more different from the neo-trance anthems that made a name for him 10 years ago, but those who’ve listened closely over the years will surely know it’s his hand at work here. His first album, The Idiots Are Winning, turned his knack for pretty melodies and hardware grooves on its side, still delivering those infectious patterns and hooks but making it all a little rougher around the edges, willing to dip a toe into the unknown. The Inheritors, seven years later, pushes the boundaries considerably further and is surely transformative. It’s a creative triumph from a man who’s unafraid to take chances, to challenge himself creatively, to trump dancefloor conventions while still operating ostensibly within the periphery of dance music culture. The star of The Inheritors is Holden’s mastery of the modular synth. Because of the nature of the gear used, there is something almost automatically timeless about these tracks, owing as much to the motorik sprawl of krautrock as techno. That it took me several months to come around to the album (I picked it up as soon as it came out earlier this year) is a testament to how unexpected these tracks are, often diverting into noisy, discordant tangents and rougher sounds. Lead single “Gone Feral” sets the tone well, with its swirling, squirming synth arpeggios that shimmer and shake. It’s an interesting choice for a single, announcing loud and clear that this is not another “Break in the Clouds.” It’s anchored by a plodding, slow kick and supporting toms and sounds that betray most dancefloor conventions, but it makes up for it with a lurching, infectious momentum. Paired with the title track, it’s the turbulent, writhing center of an album that positively vibrates with energy. Whereas Holden’s early trance tracks might conjure up visions of after hours sunrise or slow-moving cloud formations, these tracks are primal, nature untamed. That same wild energy can be found buzzing through tracks like opener “Rannoch Dawn” in a slightly more tempered manner, or underpinned by a dance music framework on second single “Renata.”
It’s also worth noting that The Inheritors is very much an ALBUM. This is not merely a collection of tracks in random order, but rather a listening experience with a start, middle, and end. And so some of the more abstract and wandering tracks like “Sky Burial” and “Seven Stars” make far more sense in sequence than on their own. After the blistering title track, Holden transitions into the final act of the album, a sort of comedown that includes the aptly named “Some Respite,” the totally gorgeous “Blackpool Late Eighties,” and the self-deprecatingly named “Self-Playing Schmaltz.” Fans of Border Community and Holden’s repertoire might be confused at first by the coarseness and leftfield characteristics of The Inheritors, but with a bit of patience and an open mind, hopefully they will come around as I have. This is a bold and adventurous piece of work that deserves repeat listens and resides confidently among the strongest albums of the year.