Release Date: Nov 3, 2017
Record label: Border Community
Genre(s): Electronic, Club/Dance
If you like your freeform jazz with north African gnawa music and vast modulators then you're in luck. James Holden has assembled his disparate avengers; from dance artist Lucy Suggate, who performed a solo show 'Pilgrim' set to Holden's previous record The Inheritors and ethereally adlibs to The Animal Spirits' title track in its mesmeric video, to Alice Coltrane's incorrigible percussion. Together, the avant-garde legion, they launch a counteroffensive on musical inanity, exhibiting an ardent boiling pot of creativity bubbling over onto the worktop of heavy-handed analogies.
This is James Holden's third album and his first since 2013's much swooned over The Inheritors. For The Animal Spirits, Holden sticks to a broadly similar blueprint - kaleidoscopic electronics, abstract tonescapes and ethnographic samples - but this album owes more to cosmic jazz than its Pagan Britain-inspired predecessor. Here Holden and his newly expanded band doff their caps to Afro-futurist bandleaders like Pharaoh Sanders, Don Cherry and Sun Ra, as live drums and an assortment of woodwind instruments flesh out the electronica.
Marshall Allen once told me that he and the other members of Sun Ra Arkestra tried to make their instruments sound like synthesisers. On his last album, The Inheritors, James Holden seemed to be trying to make his synthesiser sound like a free jazz ensemble. An LP of towering ambition and epic proportions--it was Resident Advisor's album of the year in 2013--The Inheritors's crackled with an energy that felt far more alive than something that could be summoned from a circuit board.
However, replacing programmed beats with a brass- and woodwind-heavy band - the titular Animal Spirits - and foregoing solipsist analogue synth explorations for vibrant, turbulent jazz- and pagan folk-influenced workouts result in a startling organic transformation on this, Holden's third album. There are certainly no half measures in Holden's quest for more of a live feel. These nine cuts were recorded entirely live in the studio and with neither overdubs nor edits. The usual constraints of having the live drummer play to a click track to better sync with programmed beats were abandoned, too.
Like most electronic producers, James Holden is a man of few press shots. But the photograph that accompanies the English musician's radically different new album--a moonlit trance bacchanal recorded live with an ensemble of improvisers dubbed the Animal Spirits--gives us a strong hint of his strange new direction. Dressed in the drab grey overalls of an industrial technician, Holden seems to have wandered out from the concrete towers behind him, lured towards us by strange forces lurking in the long grass.
I nspired by Don Cherry and Pharoah Sanders's jazz-world fusion experiments with Moroccan gnawa music, former trance DJ Holden attempted his own crossover with Floating Points and former Sanders collaborator Mahmoud Guinia on the 2015 12-inch Marhaba. Forging those connections left him longing to play with a band of fellow explorers: hence new crew the Animal Spirits. The gnawa influence is strong in the dizzying build of Pass Through the Fire, but it's just one element in a giddy maelstrom of cosmic prog, krautrock, techno and psych-folk.
J ames Holden is an Oxford University maths graduate turned DJ, producer and synth wizard who made his name with a suitably cerebral variety of Aphex Twin-inspired rave music. In the last decade, he's forsaken DJing to front a live band that mixes minimalism, astral jazz and the rhythmic textures of north African gnawa music. The results are often joyous.
"Incantation for Inanimate Object" is the name of the opening track on The Animal Spirits, the latest album by James Holden. The track title doubles as a mission statement for the polymath UK producer and composer, who has spent his recent career exploring the mystical possibilities of electronic instruments, bringing burbling life to banks of filters and oscillators that stood inert before his approach. His last album, 2014's excellent The Inheritors, was both cooly industrial and warmly alive.