Review of David Holmes’ The Holy Pictures, State, 2008.

In 2008 I started writing for State. I was recruited late one night in Whelan’s. I met John Walshe who was DJing and he told me about the new magazine. I’d known and been colleagues with John in Hot Press since about 1994 and I thought really highly of him (and Phil Udell and Niall Byrne, all involved in State) so I asked: can I write for you? State was great and ran for about ten years. For a few months, State was a print as well as online magazine – hence the relative brevity of this piece. When they went online only, my writing got a bit more expansive / waffly. In terms of The Holy Pictures, ‘The Ballad of Sarah and Jack’, the ballad of David Holmes’s parents who are on the cover of the record, remains the standout track. My final paragraph covers just how beautiful and powerful a piece it is.

David Holmes: The Holy Pictures (Canderblinks / Mercury / Universal)

David Holmes has spent half his career scoring huge Hollywood films, and half the rest scoring imaginary films. So, the challenge facing any reviewer of The Holy Pictures is to avoid the dreaded reflex adjective: cinematic. Like trying to review the Magnetic Fields without using the word “arch”, it’s a fricking impossible challenge.

Still, there are as many types of films as songs, so cinematic never tells you very much. Usually, it means Monument Valley-style widescreen, but that only applies here to the opening track. ‘I Heard Wonders’ fades in on an insistent, staccato bass line, adding instruments until it reaches one of those supernova moments like the Pixies’ ‘Tame’ or old-school trance, and thundering along from there.

Then, there’s ‘The Story of the Ink’, which Tarantino could surely use, with slashing guitar and gorgeous contrapuntal glockenspiel. ‘Theme’ and ‘Hey Maggie’ have an ache to them that you don’t have room for in Soderbergh soundtracks; but the film I would watch again and again is the one ‘The Ballad of Sarah and Jack’ is from.

Holmes has said that The Holy Pictures is inspired by his mum, Sarah, who died in 1996. Without that context, would ‘Ballad’ be so beautiful? Who knows, but it ends the album on a note of grace and simplicity – five or six interchanging chords on guitar and piano in the straightforward key of C – that leaves the listener in a welcome contemplative melancholy, with an appreciation of those around them still living that maybe they didn’t have when the song began. Music doesn’t do much more than that.

Niall Crumlish 4/5

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