It is an unusual situation to find myself lauding an album that just debuted at number 4 on the Australian music charts in the company of what could be loosely described as commercial pop artists (not the kind of milieu I generally write about). But then that just about sums up Holy Holy‘s universal appeal. Striding triumphantly between broad commercial pop and an independent sensibility, ‘Hello My Beautiful World’ is a magnificent and intelligent album bristling with an inherent dance sensibility and a introspective and intelligent sense of sonic adventure and innovation.
The title track is worth the admission price alone: a bold and refreshing centerpiece with a challenging subtext. An eloquent simple poem spoken by singer Tim Carroll over weeping, sweeping strings, the words welcoming the natural world with its impossible beauty in a deeply melancholic tone. Carroll, in our recent interview, says it’s what is not mentioned that assumes an overarching theme:
I feel like there things that are left unsaid in that poem that are important. It’s an essay on the planet but there’s no mention of civilisation or the destruction that is occurring or any of the various anxieties that exist. There’s a conscious decision not to mention those negative things but I feel like those themes sits in the mind of the listener in the subconscious. For me, the title of the album is exactly as it sounds and exactly like the literal meaning of it, but also there is this sort of sadness that that sits underneath as well.
This epitomises the strength of this album: it is never a one note being played repeatedly but a series of delicate layers of instrumentation that explores different textures and colours.
The opening track is statement of intention: scaling melodies, a joyous singalong that is euphoric and anthemic over a buzzing, thumping rhythm section and Carrol’s celestial vocals, soaked in melancholy, with a wild, exuberant and carefree background chorus.
‘Believe Anything’ has an electronic thrumming that provides a bubbling undercurrent over which effervescent synths stream and epic vocals float. Brief interludes provide a moments of string-laden repose, but this is a full throttle blast of energy that is vibrant and energising while being at the same time haunting and melancholic.
With production contribution from Japanese Wallpaper, the result is a complex multi layered sound that creates a wondrous sonic architecture.
Singer Tim Carroll, part of the duo with Oscar Dawson, says:
‘Believe Anything’ was one of the first songs we wrote for the record, and from the beginning, it always felt right. We got the main character of it all out in one quick session, and then over the months, we refined it. We added beautiful string arrangements, and some mean dark synths in the back half. Japanese Wallpaper spent some time with the session and added some novel sounds and textures to the arrangement. We layered the vocals and worked on balancing the various melodies, but this song, unlike others, came together easily.
This exemplifies Holy Holy’s infinite capacity for delivering bold shimmering synth pop with intelligence and a super strong melodic framework.
‘How You Been’ is just that: it is an immersive piece that is a delightful sonic construction that combines a euphoric tone with just a touch of melancholia. It’s vibrant and posed: an indelible element of the duo’s songwriting. Carroll says:
It has a lot of the hallmarks of what we do. At the core of it, it’s a classic Holy Holy song in the sense that there’s real storytelling. A character based, lyrical theme plays out.
Then there’s Oscar’s emotive chord progressions that subtly influence the way you feel. They feed into the lyrics. You don’t realise why, but you’re listening to the song and certain emotions come up.
Carroll’s voice is delicate and emotive and the instrumentation, while light in touch, is an aural delight with its intricate patterns.
‘The Aftergone’ features the vocal input of uber cool sister duo CLEWS, who are establishing their own reputation in the Australian indie scene as well as musical input from Kim Moyes from The Presets.
The result is a beautifully flowing indie pop track infused with an indelible sparkle and a joie de vivre that is tempered with a delicious hint of melancholy. Bittersweet taste is at the very core of celestial pop and Holy Holy have proven themselves time and time again to be masters of their realm.
Oscar Dawson from the duo says of the collaboration:
Working with Kim was fun and I’ve always loved The Presets. We wanted to push this song into electronic territory, and he was the right person to go to for that. Tim then wrote a pre-chorus melody and lyrics that we felt were perfect for Lily and Grace from CLEWS, a band – and people – we’re super fond of. We’ve toured with them and they’ve joined us on stage many times before. We’re stoked that they can finally feature on a song with us.
Of the lyrics, Carroll adds:
The future has been feeling particularly uncertain lately. The world we thought we knew is not there anymore. This song is an acknowledgement of what that feels like. Maybe things are always like that. Maybe every generation has this experience, and this is just our story to live through.
The dark themes contrast nicely with the celestial melodies and the syncopated electric glow.
‘Port Road (feature Queen P.)’ sees a funky Holy Holy explore a grittier, darker world with the foreboding, pattering rhythms and slightly distorted vocals laced with a fiery rap interlude. ‘Ghosts’ is a dappling restrained and beautifully sung track dripping with yearning that slowly segues into a vibrant restless movement with layered harmonies and echoes. ‘ICU’ allows Holy Holy to nod to their indie guitar past: a pure indie rock beat with an indelible melody and a strong percussive organic beat.
‘Stand Where I’m Standing’ has a persistent electronic thrum and celestial distant choruses in the ether. There is an element of Sigur Ros on this track: cinematic, euphoric and rich.
Ending with ‘Here And Now’, Holy Holy leaves us with a quiet reflective ballad, piano bound and sombre. Haunting synths scrape the ceiling and Carroll’s vocals are never more expressive and urgent. This is as statuesque as anything by late period Radiohead.
‘Hello My Beautiful World’ sees Holy Holy collaborate with other musicians – as Carroll said:
I hadn’t really done that before – when I first started making music I used to hold on to the idea of songwriting pretty tightly and felt like co-writing was some kind of like a cheat, something other people did, but I felt like it was something that I shouldn’t do. It took me a long time to realise that it’s actually great and really creative and there’s nothing bad about it. A lot of really successful music makers do it, and in the end it is really special to end up with a song that you wrote with somebody else – there’s a special bond that you end up having with that person.
Tracks are punctuated by Codas – little journeys that use the basic origin track as a launching pad for some sonic adventures. Carroll mentions ‘So Tired (Coda)’ as being one of his most favourite tracks for its wild experimentation:
We just found this mood and chased it. It was one of those situations where the studio just caught on fire for a moment.
…Oscar and I suddenly had so many ideas, but we just didn’t have that much time – we were going to do hand claps, tambourines, vocals, bass, guitar: we just smashing out these parts. It became a frenzy in the studio, the beer started flowing and there were a couple of moments – Oscar was doing a guitar solo at the end, and he was just shredding and shredding. It was sounding awesome, but it wasn’t quite right and we happened on this idea of a harmonised guitar solo with less notes, less shredding but more this recorded arrangement. We were actually slightly influenced by the song ‘Redbone’ by Childish Gambino in which there is a cool harmonised guitar solo.
This is an overall brilliant and immense album full of sonic adventure that places Holy Holy in the firmament of Australian music as a shining stars up there with other exports such as DMA’S. ‘Hello My Beautiful World’ is out now through Wonderlick Recording Company and you can download, stream and order vinyl here.
Holy Holy will be embarking on an Australia-wide tour – details below and tickets available here:
Feature Photograph: Simon Eeles