Hollan Holmes follows his debut release, A Distant Light, with a sophomore effort that shuttles listeners out to the deepest reaches of space to take in large, bold celestial panoramas. The starshine vistas Holmes crafts all have the ring of spacemusic/ambient familiarity to them–he wears his influences proudly on his sleeve–but The Farthest Fringes also shows the artist advancing his technique beyond what he accomplished in his debut and taking confidence in his own voice. The disc moves between beat-free flows built in large, arcing pads and Berlin-style riffs that sparkle with old-school charm. “The Great Unknown” exhibits strong ties to Tangerine Dream in its low-end-driven, narrative feel and rich sequencer bounce. Holmes maintains a nice sense of tension throughout. The same goes for “The Sentinel,” which has such a great back-then feel I almost miss the crackle of vinyl. An urgent sequencer message Morse-Codes itself in the backdrop as Holmes switches the melodic voice between calm string-like sounds and an edgier, roughened tone that warbles with dramatic vibrato. A pulse-pounder, plain and true–especially for us analog fans. The title track highlights Holmes’ quieter hand, a patient grip on the tiller as he steers the listener through his hushed soundfields. There is a genuine sense of distance and dimension. Angel-choir voices hold long chords as you pass, growing ever more a part of the sound. “Aeon” tends toward the same feel, the sort of track that brings your breathing in line as it courses over you in warm, slow pulses. Here the sound is more directly with you; it’s around you as opposed to you moving through it, and that helps effect its sense of intimacy. “Earthshine” brings the disc to a close on pads built from a vocal sample and a long, low-end drone. Classic meditative ambient, heartfelt and inspiring. You may want to sit in stillness as this piece hushes to an end; the journey overall creates a space in your head for just such contemplation, however brief.
To my mind, Hollan Holmes has the requisite understanding, musical artistry and sense of sound design to become a notable name in the ambient field. I expect to see The Farthest Fringes popping up on end-of-year charts in December. Meanwhile, you need to be listening to this.
Available from Hollan Holmes’ web site.