DJ Kicks DJ Kicks

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James Holden James HoldenDJ Kicks

8.6 / 10

James Holden  DJ Kicks !K7 / POPSTOCK!

It’s already been more than three years since “The Idiots Are Winning” (Border Community, 2006) came out, a highly valuable album, daring and carefully made, which some insisted on unfairly underrating. And it’s been a bit less than three since that remix for “The Sun Never Sets” (Kieran Hebden + Steve Reid), the last commission Holden accepted – excepting a remix for Mercury Rev that nobody seconded, and which might have ended half-heartedly. After that came a year’s sabbatical that has ended up being nearly four and a long period of silence, reflection, and re-thinking his place in the techno scene, destined to work as an editor. Border Community is still putting out good records, far removed now from the media hype that pressured them so much in the mid-noughties, and he now agrees to DJ at clubs where he knows that they will treat him well. Meanwhile, Holden has dedicated himself to working, composing, reinventing himself and reappearing like new in this mix that takes over from the masterful “At the Controls” (Resist, 2006) in his own particular collection of canned DJ-sets. It has been so long that he already seems not to matter, as if Holden were a shadow that we don’t want to remember. But this man managed to change the course of club music with only two pieces, “A Break in the Clouds” (2003) and the remix of “The Sky Was Pink” for Nathan Fake, and if he wanted to, he could do it again. He apparently come back from his spiritual retreat with new music that will start to flow soon. He is supposed to have a new LP under his arm, the album that will reach the consensus that “The Idiots Are Winning” didn’t. So let the re-conquering begin.Let’s go back to 2007. “The Sun Never Sets” was a surprise for those of us who were following Holden—it was an incursion into psychedelics and space music from arrhythmic IDM. It might be that even Four Tet began considering changing his sound—the sound of “Ringer” later softened in a sunbath in “There Is Love In You”– entirely based on this remix that recovered the influence of krautrock with motorik rhythms and the shower of cosmic sounds that were then still very scattered throughout the underground, taken out of context, far from their zeitgeist, and with good results; no one suspected yet that one year later, Lindstrom would put out an album that would change the laws of electronic pop sound. Now we have a “DJ Kicks” that sounds like all of this: motorik and kosmische, outer-space psychedelics, and techno dislocated in time and space. The best thing of all is that it doesn’t resort to excessive revival sources and it has Holden’s touch in the production: those boxes that shake the sound like a jingle bell, the digital plug-ins and organ texture, the arabesque of melody, the soft delays and mix of albums based on the tonal scale of the melody instead of following the cadence of the drums. As already took place in that memorable “Balance 005, ”James takes advantage of the CD-mix format to play all of this amazing music that doesn’t appear on the charts of the trendy artists, that isn’t on sale at Beatport, and even music that some would put in on an Animal Collective remix at most, because it comes from the indie sphere. Holden recovers Eric Copeland via “Auto Dimmer” to intensify the central psychedelic block of the mix, which could never pass through the hands of many DJ’s, so locked into their typical sounds.Holden shows that he is listening. Had you ever heard of Grackle, Maserati or Lukas Nystrand before? He has, and he makes the cosmic sequencing that marks the stages of “Disco” (Musiccargo remix) and “No More Sages” put the motor into first gear, racing towards unknown territory, in this mix where every name obligates you to raise an eyebrow: a first song for the exhausted Piano Magic? And it turns out that “Wintersport / Cross Country,” with its sound of a horse and cart on a gravel road, is the cosmic introduction that the album needs. Toxic Mordant Music so soon? Yes, but with “Olde Wobbly,” which has the drum beats on low, helping to structure the session like a mountain stage in a bicycle race, or like buying on the stock market on an agitated day: with non-stop rises and falls, but in an orderly manner, making you listen carefully and with headphones. It is easy to get lost among the double sound mirrors that Holden sets up throughout the trip; it is even easier for the brain to disconnect because of the avalanche of information and calmed-down baroque quality of the pieces put together here as if it were a great post-cosmic symphony. But look him straight in the eye, without blinking, without fear—come into his game, and you will hear fabulous things: the bells and sounds of glass in Caribou ’s “Lemon Yoghourt,” the ten minutes of Holden’s unpublished remix for Mogwai “The Sun Smells Too Loud” : a fit of indecisive breaks, stylophones, and cosmic airs with 90’s texture, sort of like the Holden equivalent of “The Girl with the Sun in her Head” by Orbital . There are also hypnagogic references in MIT , in “Rauch (Luke Abbott Remix),” Arp ( “Potentialities”), and Lucky Dragons ( “Open Melody,” with plenty of wood noises), and especially a peak moment that makes you suspect that it’s true, that what Holden has composed during his years of retreat will leave you with your mouth hanging open. In the decisive moment of the mix, between rising and falling, and preparing an ending bordering on pop and library music –check out that contrast– Holden lets loose with his special song for the session, “Triangle Folds”: a waterfall of melodies, thick-grain analogue textures, deconstructed techno, cosmic music reinvented from the womb of IDM, a feeling of living in a new world – is it Pandora from “Avatar”?—all from an in-depth perspective. And all of this is so good, so refreshing, such an anticipation of Holden’s artistic rebirth (I hope), that you even forget about how bad he looks on the cover. That fringe could get him banged up, without a doubt, but what is inside his head shines and sparkles like the explosion of a galaxy. Javier Blánquez

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