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Holy Other Held Review

Album. Released 2012.  

BBC Review

Debut album of ethereal soul from mysterious producer.

Paul Lester 2012

Held is the first album proper from this enigmatic producer – said to be from Manchester, although Gothenburg and Berlin have also been mooted – whose debut EP, With U, came out on Tri Angle last year.

The home of "witch house" acts Balam Acab and oOoOO, the label also signed How to Dress Well who, like Holy Other (and, for that matter, The Weeknd), appears to be involved in a project to remake RnB as a ghostly, ethereal soundtrack to the end of the world. 

Unlike HTDW’s Tom Krell, however, Holy Other has yet to reveal his name or to remove the shroud from his head when he performs live. The anonymity matches the mysterious murk of the music, with its touches of not just RnB but the aforementioned witch house as well as dubstep and ambient electronica, although this isn’t cool synthesizer music so much as R&B, hip hop, pop and garage left in the cold night air.

The pace is slow, the mood is solemn verging on the sepulchral – that alias of his would appear to be a deliberate nod to the sacred properties of his favourite music (he even used to play a track called BOYZiiMEN) – and the atmosphere is glacial. 

And it’s uniformly sorrowful. These are bass ballads for clubs where everyone sits around wearing headphones luxuriating in their own private misery. The tracks are instrumental but there are voices everywhere, cut up and tweaked or stretched out, leaving echoes of silence. Inpouring is typical of Held’s abstract quiet-storm funk with its aching keyboard chords and pitch-shifted vocals adding to the aural fog.

Throughout, Holy Other uses repetition to heighten the sense of life as one long cruel cycle of longing and despair. Even the song titles – (W)here, Nothing Here, In Difference, Tense Past – hint at what happens when all feelings are exhausted and you’re left drained of emotion or desire.

But it’s all the more affecting for that, and for all its cleverness it’s not just a calculated exercise. There could even be commercial potential for this music; it sounds like Michael Jackson slowed down to 18bpm, or R. Kelly in Hell.

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