James Holden / James Holden & the Animal Spirits

The Animal Spirits

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Holden has been in the game for well over two decades, starting out as a trance producer before exploring left-field house and techno. However, on his third full-length album, he breaks free from the restraints of so-called computer music and embraces the spirit of human performance. This isn't meant to be dismissive of the creativity and experimentation found in various pockets of the dance/electronic scene, but the next logical step for an artist brimming with ideas yet constrained by precedent. The result is the gloriously kaleidoscopic sound of Holden evolving as a musician, which he has thoroughly earned through years of pushing at boundaries.

Genre labels such as electronic-prog-jazz-psych-folk would usually ring alarm bells, signifying that a record lacks clear direction, potentially compounded, in this case, by the fact that Holden and co. decided on a rough idea for each track before letting the music and performance guide the way. It's a huge testament, then, to the talent of everyone involved that the album takes a loose-fitting approach and manages to feel perfectly cohesive. Opening track "Incantation for Inanimate Object" kicks things off in ritualistic fashion -- like a slowly widening portal to another world -- before leading into the cascade of drums found on "Spinning Dance," which sets the pace for the rest of the record. Occasionally the album follows a more rigid structure, such as on "Each Moment Like the First." In another context rigidity might be negative criticism but here it's a welcome grounding after the free-fall of the previous tracks, and even then, it's hardly straightforward due to the odd time signature.

The seeds that Holden plants for each track contain enough creative vitality to grow into unique forms. Take standout tracks such as "Thunder Moon Gathering" and "The Neverending," where the core ideas act as the driving force, while the improvised elements dance and weave throughout, in turn controlling the dynamics by ebbing and flowing as required. Overall, The Animal Spirits feels very organic, brought about by the spontaneity of the performances, the brief window of time in which it was recorded, and Holden's own evolutionary arc. It also offers a glimpse into the deeper corners of his psyche, peeling back another layer to reveal just how colorful his imagination can be.

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