Hollan Holmes: Prayer To The Energy
Hollan Holmes

I haven't heard all of Hollan Holmes's six releases (a review of his fifth, Incandescent, appeared at textura in mid-2015), but it'd be hard to imagine any one of them topping his latest, Prayer To The Energy, when the double-CD collection plays like some kind of definitive statement. By his own reckoning, the Euless, Texas-based artist (b. 1963) produces ‘ambient-electronic space music,' and the description isn't far wrong, judging by the two hours of material on the release.

There's nothing coy about his love for electronically generated material, and to that end he lists on the inner sleeve the total array of synthesizers (Moog Prodigy, Korg MS-2000, etc.) and software (Presonus Studio One II, Propellerhead Reason 8, etc.) used to create the album's fourteen pieces. That Moog Prodigy, by the way, is the same one he acquired at the age of eighteen, a few years before the epiphany he experienced when a friend introduced him to Tangerine Dream (on a rock climbing trip in West Texas, no less). Many years would pass before the release of his first album, A Distant Light, in 2010, but Holmes has made up for lost time in his rate of output since.

At the outset, the title track establishes the first half's luscious, sequence-driven style. Panoramic in scope, it's dynamic and epic material that seems to stretch across the heavens, and as its patterns reverberate Holmes's affection for the musics of Tangerine Dream, Steve Roach, and Robert Rich comes through. One of the things that distances Holmes from others is a pronounced focus on compositional form: no matter how much one of the pieces might appear to drift, a clear sense of structure and direction is discernible. Variety is also present in the tone of the material, with some settings peaceful and others robust, and so is a pronounced live feel, itself understandable due to the fact that Holmes recorded a number of the tracks in real time. Elsewhere on disc one, the inclusion of a tabla's soft patter gives “That Ephemeral Spark” individuating character and, like some blinding supernova, “We Can Never Go Back” shimmers beatifically.

The second half retires the sequence-driven style, opting instead for a comparatively more meditative and time-suspending kind of presentation. Holmes's oft-serene settings drift quietly, enveloping the listener in synth washes and oceanic swells as they do so, and tonal contrasts surface here also, with a track such as “Sublime Stasis” lighter in spirit than the rather more disquieting “Cover of Darkness.” Most pieces are in the seven-minute range, the exceptions being the disc-closing epics, which, it turns out, were commissioned by Chuck Van Zyl for his Star's End radio show, the first CD's “A Midwinter Night's Dream” for a 2015 special and the second's “Cerro Torre” for one in 2016. In stretching out for twenty-minute lengths, the two represent the apex of Holmes's artistry (on this release at least) as they demonstrate his ability to achieve structural cohesiveness over an extended duration. Don't be surprised if you find yourself carried away by the deep entrancement of “A Midwinter Night's Dream” or helplessly pulled into the dark vortex of “Cerro Torre.”

Holmes, incidentally, possesses considerable talent in another area, too: closer inspection reveals that the cover image isn't a photograph but a painting, and it's from his art production that he makes his living and supports his musical passion (in his own words, it's “what puts food on the table and new synths in the studio”). Put simply, Prayer To The Energy constitutes a remarkable achievement in ambient production and deserves to be added to the collection of any listener with an appreciation for the genre.

March 2017