Echoes March 2024 CD of the Month: Hollan Holmes

Hollan Holmes's Sacred Places Echoes March CD of the Month

By John Diliberto 3/1/2024

Hollan HolmesSequencers are in the air these days. I usually don’t like to pick similarly-styled albums back-to-back for CDs of the Month, but the latest CD by Hollan Holmes couldn’t be passed up. Sacred Places (Spotted Peccary Music)  like our February pick, Steve Roach’s The Desert Winds of Change, is a sequencer-based journey that is riveting from beginning to end. But Holmes employs a different style of sequencing than Roach. It’s more melodic and more dynamic in its shifts and turns while Roach is more concerned with carving space.

This is even more highly evolved than Holmes’s previous CD of the Month, Emerald Waters. He has gotten more structured with shifts of keys, patterns, and rhythms, beginning with the opener, “Order Out of Chaos.” But they are all driven by a sense of drama and location. In Holmes’s mind, these are sonic images of Texas landscapes, much like Emerald Waters. That makes sense since Holmes is a visual fine artist. Hollan is one of those loner musicians. He works on his own by day, painting Texas landscapes, and then goes into his home studio alone at night to orchestrate sonic images of those landscapes. But as I mentioned in my previous review, you don’t need to know that. You’ll quickly find yourself imagining your own landscapes, whether earthly, alien or cyber.

Holmes sees the spiritual in rock formations as you can tell by the title to “Temples of Stone”.  It’s based around a steady single-note pattern that finds itself wrapped by counterpoint sequencer cycles, while a flute-like tone cries out from the wilderness, as deep chords rise up like leviathans. You may see images of stone formations in the desert, or you may see Spacing Guild heighliners traveling through folded space.

“Bristlecone” is a brighter track, with rippling sequencer patterns that may evoke the bristlecone pine, a desert tree that is long-lived, and shows it, with gnarled trunk, scraggly branches and surface roots. But this track is much more joyful than that description might imply, as melodies chase each other in synchronized patterns.

In fact, there is a lot of joy in Holmes’s music. The gentle main melody of “Drawn to Intangible Energy” could just stand on its own as an earworm. It traverses the first half of the track but is slowly enveloped in more manic melodic cycles that are mirrored in delays, creating a kinetic motion that’s torn by occasional solo stabs on top, finally climaxing in an implosion.

On an album that has exhilarating drama, “An Elevated Life” may be the most dramatic track. It opens prettily enough, with a sparkling, baroque-like melodic pattern, but other instruments soon emerge, including a snarling bass groove, a serrated synthesizer lead and a fuzz-guitar riff from Bill Porter, the last of which turns up throughout the track. The drama happens late, when a percussion boom signals a shift in direction that sounds a lot more dangerous. And it is, with synth stabs lancing like laser-fire, and the return of the guitar riff. These dynamic percussive booms and washes play through many of the songs on the album, like “Walking Among Kings,” ushering you into a different angles of the landscapes.

If you hear echoes of Tangerine Dream and Jean-Michel Jarre in here, you would not be mistaken. Certain sequencer riffs, arpeggiator patterns and timbral choices call back to these artists.

“Primal Instinct” is definitely the darkest track on the album. It’s one of those sacred places you may not want to enter. Shadowy synthesizer pads move with predatory danger, surging stealthily as a rhythm pattern emerges. It’s ominous, unrelenting, and one of the few uses of drums on the album, in this case, a tribal percussive sound. A dark synthesizer fanfare pushes you through the work, climaxing in a Tibetan throat singing groan. Countering that darkness is “A Light Unto the World,” a non-stop build, gaining energy and acceleration on spun melodic cycles, as if the skies had parted to a divine brilliance.

Holmes bring it home on the title track, with acoustic sampled piano stating the opening theme, while rapid sequencers twirl in the distance. Deep electronic percussion accents create a stately ambience before washing into a sylvan grove of shimmering synth washes, spiraling arpeggios, and a melody that’s hinted at in multiple synth timbres and feedback-like sustains. They reach a crescendo, before descending back into the piano theme once more and, like many tracks on the album, fading on the vamp.

Hollan Holmes may be inspired by the landscapes of Texas, but like many things in nature, Sacred Places reveals them to be as spectacular and awe-inspiring as any Sci-fi creation.

Read Review of Hollan Holmes’s Emerald Waters
Hear our 2022 interview with Hollan Holmes
Join Echoes CD of the Month Club


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