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Sunday, November 23, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 49.0° F  Fog/Mist
The Paper
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Holy Other: Held
(Tri Angle)

Held, the first full-length album by English producer Holy Other, is shrouded in as much mystery as the artist himself. Though its songs are dark, minimal and shaped by synths, they don't qualify as dubstep, goth or that strange brand of electronica some have started calling "R&B" - even though it bears little resemblance to anything Usher's ever released. Perhaps mixology terms work better than musical ones: If Held were a cocktail, its name would be Sex (and Death) on the Beach.

The title track's sultry vocals don't contain many lyrics. Warm and creepy at the same time, they're more rhythmic than melodic. They seem to reverberate underwater in "Past Tension," whose almost-sunny chords recall the hypnotic island retreat of Korallreven's An Album by Korallreven. A heartfelt plea - "Be my heart" - emerges from the deep, buzzing bass of "In Difference," then drowns before abstract waves crash ashore in "Tense Past." Filled with what sounds like cracking whips or laser guns, "Love Some1" adds more violence to the picture. The gently throbbing bass of "(W)here" serves as both a drumbeat and a heartbeat as clacking percussion channels the sounds of stomping feet and slamming doors.

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