James Holden & The Animal Spirits – The Animal Spirits

James Holden returns with one of the most immersive albums of 2017

Album Review by Corrie Innes | 30 Oct 2017
  • James Holden and the Animal Spirits
Album title: The Animal Spirits
Artist: James Holden & The Animal Spirits
Label: Border Community
Release date: 3 Nov

James Holden's latest project is a dizzying, immersive work which blends natural and synthetic sounds together – shot through with jazz and Moroccan influences – to create a cinematic world that’s as expansive and diverse as it is terse and claustrophobic, and it's stunning.

Incarnation for Inanimate Object opens the album. A fitting title, the album seems to wake slowly, eerie choral vocals setting the tone immediately. The choir fades as the second track, Spinning Dance, begins. Synths and acoustic chimes hover and mould into some kind of rhythm, gradually picking up in intensity as flutes, initially backgrounded, move forward and join a skittery drumbeat and a softer version of the choir from a track before. Motifs come and go across this album. Instruments and melodies build and fade only to reappear, or disappear altogether before they’ve even been fully realised. The Animal Spirits evokes an entire world – a surreal, psychedelic reality – by blending bassy synth riffs and directionless free jazz horns into a seamless, organic whole.

The closest thing to a conventional track is Each Moment Like the First. Dominated by nervous, shimmering synths, it seems to start off unsure of itself but asserts its power as it goes on. It's the most straightforwardly electronic track, a marching snare drum the only prominent live instrumentation. Instead, heavily vocodered voices and waves of synths wash over the core rhythms.

The Beginning & End of the World is a change in tempo but not in atmosphere. A funereal drumbeat accompanies the gradual build-up of Berlin-era Bowie style wails – from saxophone and synthesiser – towards a lethargic climax that fades away to just a single fingers-on-blackboard sax and electronic feedback. If the album opens with an awakening, an incarnation, it closes with the reverse. Go Gladly into the Earth’s horns and riffs are calmer than elsewhere, more contemplative and reflective, and certainly less fraught with nervous energy. They’re given space to grow, expand and contract naturally, before fading gently. The world of The Animal Spirits retreats on its own terms.

Despite the extensive experimentation, The Animal Spirits is underpinned by earworm hooks and basslines. While it's a million miles from the techno of Holden’s earlier career, its rhythms and hooks are infectious. The Animal Spirits is, put frankly, one of the most complex, immersive and impressive albums of the year. 

Listen to: Pass Through the Fire, Each Moment Like the First, Thunder Moon Gathering