Holy Other’s debut album opens with a bang. Literally: It’s a long, drawn-out rumble that might be a thunderclap, or perhaps simply the sound of a needle dragging its way across a felt slip-mat, agonized and enervated. It’s a fitting kickoff for Held, which feels like the soundtrack to the end of the world. But the Manchester musician’s vision of the apocalypse is clearly the whimpering kind: Slow, sad, and sensually soporific, his music revels in mournful vocal samples, plaintive synthesizers and slow-motion beats. He’s hardly alone in his saturnine fixations: Holy Other’s viscous bass and ethereal affect are clearly inspired by Burial, our foremost maven of mope-tronica, and his style is of a piece with a growing number of artists taking chopped-and-screwed R&B to brooding extremes, like Clams Casino, Balam Acab and oOoOO. Holy Other, like all of those artists, is signed to London’s Tri Angle label, and Held feels like the most potent distillation of the imprint’s in-house style. Like 2011′s With U EP, Held is uniform in mood: With every track, it only sinks deeper into its pneumatic gloom. But it’s hardly undifferentiated. Supersaturated colors bloom unexpectedly amidst the ashes, particularly on the lush, super-saturated “In Difference” and “Past Tension,” which display an unlikely debt to 10cc’s buoyant “I’m Not in Love.”
While unremittingly languid, moving like a 45 played at 33 RPM, the album keeps switching up its rhythms, alternating between a pensive 4/4 thud and flickering R&B grooves. Even at their most sluggish, his rhythms are enlivened by ping-ponging handclaps and skittering rimshot tattoos that accentuate the feeling of floating in mid-air, surveying the wreckage. For unrepentant romantics, what a heartbreaking vista it is.