Album Review: James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits (Border Community)

Cosmic debris

British electronica wunderkind James Holden has an impressive reputation in the remixing business, he has worked his magic on releases by New Order, Radiohead, Madonna and fellow trailblazers Nathan Fake and Keiren Hebden. Holden has had dance floor hits since he broke onto the UK scene in 1999 and has gone on to spread his influence far and wide. Now it seems he has broken away from that world to give full expression to his creativity with an album of his own music recorded live with a posse of talented improvisers and recorded in his Sacred Walls studio in London. The Animal Spirits is not a dance album in any conventional sense but that doesn’t mean you can’t dance to it, just that it’s unlikely to get heavy rotation on the club scene. Instead this is to all intents and purposes a mash up of psych, prog, trance and Moroccan Gnawa styles the like of which you don’t hear very often. It may have been influenced by Gong, Can and perhaps Goran Kajfes, whose The Reason Why releases revitalised Turkish psych from back in the day, but it’s hard to be sure.

Holden’s instruments of choice are all things keyboard controlled and these form the melodic basis of this nine tune collection, they deliver the highs and lows, the drive and the power. But he is not alone, the Animal Spirits is also the name of the band that made the album with him, they consist of Marcus Hamblett on cornet, Tom Page on drums and Liza Bec on recorders and ghaita, a North African double reeded woodwind instrument. There are also vocals on a couple of tracks but these are used in choral or drone style, there are no songs as such.

The Animal Spirits feels like one long piece of music, it’s broken up into elaborately titled parts but they segue together albeit with distinct start and end points. The overall approach is a gradual build up to climax and slow ramp down to a quieter ending, but each is different. Incantation for Inaminate Object is the intro and combines gathered voices and percussion in a build toward Spinning Dance where bells, keys and more percussion are joined by pounding drums under a slow melody line, it’s dense but not complex and encourages volume for a full immersion effect. Pass Through the Fire develops a trance inducing modality with synth loops and sax that builds to a heavy groove and creates an expanding psychedelic whirlpool of cosmic slop that would have done Funkadelic proud.

The sound quality is dense but not obviously compressed except for when things get very busy, and even then it’s not offensive. Tracks including The Beginning & the End of the World allow the sound to expand beyond the speakers and produce a decent scale of sound in which Holden creates a sonic reflection of the ever growing nature of the universe, like you do. The highlight in intensity terms is Thunder Moon Gathering where everyone joins in to create a sonic vortex from which little light can escape, this is the heaviest track on the album and not for the feint of heart but a whole lot of fun if you want the deep end experience.

Holden and co have managed to create a remarkable album in the Animal Spirits, one that mixes genres with ease to produce a musical experience that takes you further than most. If you have a taste for pulsating keys, simmering percussion and skronking horn it should be on your radar.

Jason Kennedy
@EditorThe Ear

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