Hollan Holmes pays homage to astronaut Neil Armstrong on his new release, Phase Shift, and in doing so offers the best work of his short but increasingly impressive career. As with his previous discs, Holmes’ music varies between an analog sound that pings all the listening-pleasure centers in old-school fans, and broad, far-reaching spacemusic excursions. In fact, the final two pieces, “Morphogenesis” and the title track, covering about 15 and 33 minutes respectively, are incredibly deep stellar flows, alternately calming and quietly dramatic. “Morphogenesis” lifts slowly out of silence to find its way to that place where all spacemusic goes at some point, the ever-popular angelic choral pads. Holmes does a great job of dialing them back to a sort of celestial whisper, a perfect accent to the misty borders and earthy bass drones of his larger drifts. “Phase Shift” is the more ethereal of the two but none the less substantial in sensation. Long undulating washes dissolve across time into a fog of surrounding sound; it’s simply a classic ambient feel, all slow evolution and crossing pads for deep and pleasing immersion. Holmes’ structure here is impeccable, giving a distant sense of melody within the flow. Prior to this long stretch, he opens with sharp and well-shaped sequencer lines in “A Precarious Trajectory” and “The Road to Perdition.” These are an analog lover’s joy ride, energetic and angular, the sounds bouncing and rebounding beautifully. Have your Tangerine Dream points of reference handy. “The Road to Perdition” is punctuated with mighty, fist-on-keys chords, big slams of sound that pack some serious resonance. A great touch. Falling in the middle is “Lost Memories.” It opens in a quiet space, its pads soft and gentle, and later takes on a light touch of sequencing. Again, Holmes elegantly folds in this aspect so that it grows organically into the piece and builds to a point of focus. Underneath it comes a repeating melodic phrase that feels a little pastoral. Holmes takes almost a full minute to strip the sounds back down and prepare the listener for the deep trip ahead.
It’s been an absolute pleasure to spend a lot of time dropping into Phase Shift. The deep end of it is remarkably so, a full-on brain massage edged with emotion. Its uptempo side is simply fun, not just for its nostalgic side but for the quality of the interlacing of lines as well. Holmes makes it sound effortless, and his sense of overall pacing creates a well-realized sonic through-line. Another superb offering from Hollan Holmes. If his name is not on your radar yet, check again. It needs to be.
Available from Hollan Holmes’ web site.