AOTW Review :: James Holden ‘The Inheritors’

July 17th 2013


James Holden, the boss of progressive label Border Community, has returned with a challenging album that expands every border of dance music. Those familiar with Holden will be aware of the man’s propensity for all things experimental, mathematical and mind-altering; and his long awaited second album, The Inheritors, delivers on all these levels. It was only after the album ended that I realised I had been lost in a trance, staring into oblivion for 75 minutes as I tried to comprehend the “songs.”

If music were a science, James Holden would be considered a professor, and The Inheritors would be his groundbreaking experiment.

For those who have awaited The Inheritors, the 15 tracks of mind-whacking originality are sure to satisfy. Holden has used his warehouse of synths, modulators and homemade software to full effect, achieving his goal of creating “a whole world in a record.”

The eccentricity of this album could not be predicted from his debut, The Idiots Are Winning, or the string of remixes he has put together for the likes of Madonna, Britney Spears and Mogwai. Over seven years of musical discovery, the album draws from an odd blend of influences including Malian rhythms, 60s Kraut psychedelia and British folk music.

On cue with the title, The Inheritors sounds aged, with its rusty analogue synths, dilapidated melodies, and archaic song structures. And yet, Holden has created something entirely original by tapping into the heritage of his native British Isles.

In opener ‘Rannoch Dawn’, high pitched screeches create a desolately inhuman landscape that is deafened by tribal drumming and throat-chants of synth that conjure images of semi-naked pagans performing ritual dances around a fire.

A mind-altering film clip for a mind-altering track. Strap yourself in for Holden’s ‘Renata’. 

The single, ‘Renata’, uses multiplicities of slightly altered arpeggios that begin neatly aligned but disintegrate into disarray. Somehow, Holden makes it work, leaving you both captivated and assaulted. ‘Gone Feral’ takes it further, with arpeggios varying in rhythm, pitch and placement that send your head swirling as your ears try to keep up.

Over the fifteen tracks, Holden doesn’t hold back as each track taunts you with contrasting imagery. The scattered percussion of ‘The Caterpillar’s Intervention’ sounds like hundreds of feet marching into a party where multiple swirling saxophones compound into triumph.

‘Sky Burial’ features an archaic organ that transports you to a medieval cathedral from which grating sounds of decapitation and torture are audible through the stained glass windows.

Holden doesn’t include lyrics in his music for fear of being misunderstood, although he runs the same risk with The Inheritors. His more ambitious songs may prove too experimental for all but the most dedicated re-listeners who manage to comprehend the album.

At first glance, the album artwork appears to be a nondescript stone, but closer examination reveals a cryptic diagram of some incomprehensible ancient knowledge. It’s as if this wisdom represents the musical heritage that Holden and his Border Community have “inherited,” and use at their disposal to elicit a response – whether it’s dance, thought, or, in the case of The Inheritors, a shock to the system.


James Holden’s ‘The Inheritors’ is out now through Border Community, and it’s our album of the week: 12.7.13 – 19.7.13

More AOTW Reviews | More by Anthony Wallace



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