Album Reviews

James Holden – Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities

(Border Community) UK release date: 31 March 2023

A life-affirming hour in the musical heavens with a biographical album-as-pilgrimage that conjures The Orb, Andrew Weatherall and 808 State while never outstaying its welcome

James Holden - Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities For his fourth studio album, James Holden revisits the early 1990s. This was a time when rave music was at its most adventurous, with the Criminal Justice Bill yet to be introduced – and with all sorts of travelling parties in operation, hitting warehouses around the UK. Holden did not experience any of these first hand, so he has done the next best thing and made a pilgrimage in musical form.

The title itself appears to pay homage to the likes of The Orb (their Huge Ever Growing Pulsating Brain…), and the music can be confidently filed alongside theirs too. Yet Holden never stoops to mere pastiche, for this is a deeply personal homage to an era of great self-importance. Holden has thrown every bit of his equipment at this record, from analogue synths to samples of him on the violin or piano in his childhood. It is, then, a musical biography as seen through rave-tinted spectacles.

You Are In A Clearing sets the scene, with whale noises and references to New Age works recalling Steve Hillage’s work with System 7. Soon the loping beats and synthesized bird calls of Contains Multitudes kick in, and an extended mini-suite unfolds. Holden is all about the beats for the first half, but increasingly exotic harmonies from piano, violin and tabla take over, wrapping each other in a warm embrace that takes the music far from the studio. Now we are heading back beyond rave towards the 1970s, reaching a spirit of ecstasy found in the more ritualised Krautrock instrumentals from Popol Vuh or even Can.

Holden’s music continues in a riot of colour, bright primary colours complementing each other as vibrant riffs float up from the earth itself. The thrilling Worlds Collide Mountains Form succeeds on these terms thanks to violin drones, a funky bass and woozy lines of which the likes of Andrew Weatherall would have been proud. Trust Your Feet and In The End You’ll Know achieve similar goals, with mirages of dancing, offering pure head music through their shimmering movement. Holden’s slowing down at the end of the latter is brilliantly done, a sign that he is prepared to have fun too.

The ritualistic feel remains strong elsewhere. The Answer Is Yes starts in meditative mood, the synths now aping a vocal chorus, while in contrast Continuous Revolution is a thrilling rush of percussion and treble register synths. Common Land is a joyous swirl of noises, using British Library bird recordings with a widescreen saxophone sound. They orbit far above a dubby four to the floor beat that keeps everything grounded, ticking the boxes 808 State did in the heady days when their music held Ibiza in its grasp.

It says much for James Holden’s approach that this album never overstays its welcome, despite its length. It teems with activity, so much so that the ear is drawn to different melodies on the next listen, making it all too easy to go back to the start again and again for more of the same. Holden has created a life-affirming hour in the musical heavens, just as the title promises.

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