It had to come to this eventually. Producer, DJ, multi-instrumentalist and composer David Holmes has already had quite a career of it with many successes in his back pocket. After 13 years of smashing imaginary soundtracks like This Film's Crap Let's Slash the Seats, Let's Get Killed, Bow Down to the Exit Sign, and real ones for Ocean's Eleven, Out of Sight, and The Game; a pair of mix albums, the fantastic Cherrystones collection, et al., he's earned enough cred with the biz and the punters to be able to squander it if he wishes to.
The Holy Pictures is that gamble. It's his fourth "proper" solo recording. He wrote or co-wrote everything on the album -- a further step in the production aesthetic of his Free Association set -- used live musicians along with his canny sampled material and even did his own singing. The album was written in response to the death of his parents. The songs are personal, but hardly weepy. They are intimate but far from sappy, they are deeply emotional without any corny sentimentalism. For evidence one need go no further than the opening cut, "I Heard Wonders," the set's first single. Written with Suicide's Martin Rev and bandmate Leo Abrahams, it's a blast of pop energy that reflects the deep influences of the feedback pop of Jesus and Mary Chain, the blissed out big beats and synth excess of La Düsseldorf, and the borderline rock chaos of early Soft Machine. At five and a half minutes it's a little long, especially since Holmes' voice is more Jim Reid-ish whisper than full-on vocalizing. That's a small complaint, though, and it's a killer track. The more proggish and Krautrock elements balanced by Brian Wilson's love of melody and harmony come to the fore in "Story of the Ink," as does Holmes love of Brian Eno's warm production. The most startling thing about The Holy Pictures is that there are no breakbeats anywhere. Live musicians play all the repetitions and Motorik styled rhythms -- check the sparse, scratchy, noisy pop in "Love Reign Over Me," with its loopy analogue synths asserting the rhythmic loop in straight cut time, and Holmes singing with Pati Hilton on backing vocals. The feel is more like something out of Primal Scream's Evil Heat and J&MC's Darklands than anything out of dance music culture.
The pop aesthetic on this set works, even if all these tunes feel like they are of a piece -- and structurally and in terms of content, they are. The album can wash over you if you're not careful, one tune bleeding into the next with seamless presentation of sometimes very melancholy emotions. "Theme/I.M.C." feels like it could have come from Before and After Science, whereas the title track feels more like Neu! playing Here Come the Warm Jets. Bits and pieces of Faust, Robert Wyatt's later solo material, Kevin Ayers, Phil Manzanera, and even the Beach Boys kiss many of these songs. But there is that sadness at this album's heart that draws one in; it doesn't feel like mope or exorcism, just personal. The final cut, "Ballad of Sarah and Jack" (his parents) is a gorgeous instrumental that could be nowhere else on this quirky, lovely offering. It may be where Holmes needed to go to get this album out of his system, but that said, it's engaging, at times stunning, and an always enjoyable listen that is a new step on his musical adventure that involves the generosity of sharing his loss in order to make us richer. Beautiful.