Album Review: James Holden – The Inheritors




Calling James Holden a producer might not be correct. He’s more of a playground engineer. Since putting out his first single at age 19, the English DJ has fallen in love with the work, play, and joy of making music. A serial remixer, he created the label Border Community as an arena for artists like Nathan Fake and Misstress Barbara to stab at the edges of what gets grouped under the “electronica” umbrella. His 2010 DJ-Kicks contribution stood out as a remarkably consistent piece in a series that by its nature tends to foster patchworks. True to form, The Inheritors, Holden’s first LP since 2006’s The Idiots Are Winning, spills over with math, color, and life.

The album sounds like learning. It repurposes tones that soundtracked ’90s science education programs — sounds meant to reinforce the wonder of understanding the water cycle or the structure of an atom for the first time. But Holden pushes through the politeness of those blips. The early electronic music he references might have embraced its own artificiality, but The Inheritors is helplessly alive. ”Renata” wobbles with intoxicated arpeggios, gnashing drums, and a fat, bristly low end. “The Caterpillar’s Intervention” nods to a few generations of prog with breaths of sax and itchy percussion. On “Sky Burial”, tortured drones loom over the scattered clangs that make up the track’s percussive space. “Gone Feral” throbs with iambs, while ”Delabole” roils along queasy pillars of smoke. Eight-minute behemoth “Blackpool Late Eighties” weaves together Tangerine Dream’s analog strains with messy beats, guiding itself to a fresh and curious present.

There’s so much wonder in here. It’s a joy to hear Holden geek out as he uses electronic tools to create life. Unlike Boards of Canada or Aphex Twin, Holden doesn’t invest in closed systems of tight machinery. He’s not into control. He’s into the kind of discovery that can only happen through play. The Inheritors jumps and squeals and writhes and blossoms. It’s music that you can’t help but hear as if you were a kid again.

Essential Tracks: “The Caterpillar’s Intervention”, “Gone Feral”, and “The Inheritors”