David Holmes hat-doffs 60s girl groups and classic film scores
Unloved might not be the most endearing of monikers, but forget that; after all, this is the latest project by venerated Northern Irish electronic musician, DJ and composer David Holmes.
For Holmes, soundtracks are truly where it’s at. Having scored countless Hollywood movies in his time (and as filmmaker Steven Soderbergh’s go-to composer), he knows his way around a scintillating score. As a wannabe auteur, his debut 1995 album ‘This Film’s Crap, Let’s Slash The Seats’, an imaginary soundtrack to the filmic images in his head, flits from acid-driven bangers to loungey introspection and still sounds amazingly fresh over 20 years later. His drug-fuelled follow-up, 1997’s ‘Let’s Get Killed’, an offbeat paean to New York, was just as vivid, drawing on Detroit techno, krautrock and northern soul.
But his new project, Unloved, a collaboration with film/TV composer Keefus Ciancia and singer Jade Vincent, raises the bar even higher. Taking inspiration from 1960s American girl groups, the epic film scores of Ennio Morricone and Nino Rota, iconic producers/arrangers George “Shadow” Morton and Jack Nitzsche, and proto-electronic innovators such as Raymond Scott and The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, ‘Guilty Of Love’ is a thrilling, smouldering, rollercoaster ride of an album. With Holmes fearlessly twiddles the knobs, firing background oscillations, tape loops and found sounds into the mix, it spills over with breathless arrangements, trippy melodies and noir-ish textures.
The opening title track, released as a single last year, sets out the stall, a fucked-up torch song loosely indebted to Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Somebody To Love’, augmented with electronic flourishes and layers. It comes with a strange arthouse video too, made by graphic designer/director Julian “Ghost Box” House (who also does Unloved’s cool sleeve art). Taking inspiration from, as House explains, “girl groups, biker gangs, underground cinema, pulp romance covers and haunted house B-movies”, it’s not too much of a stretch to imagine him and Holmes as kindred spirits.
The goosebump moments just keep on coming: ‘After Dinner’, punctuated with analogue bleeps and flutters, recalls Broadcast’s early retro-futurist sound before they veered off into more hauntological territory; ‘Xpectations’, featuring Jade Vincent’s seductively languid delivery (it’s easy to imagine Tindersticks’ Stuart Staples crooning on this – surely another mighty collaboration waiting to happen); and ‘This Is The Time’, crackling with energy and reverb, like a new wave Shangri-Las subverting R. Dean Taylor’s stomping 1967 classic ‘There’s A Ghost In My House’. The entire thing is a gloriously whacked-out, hallucinatory wall of sound that’s just crying out for the right film. It’s surely only a matter of time before Tarantino or Lynch come knocking.
Loaded with esoteric charm and after-dark mystique, ‘Guilty Of Love’ is an unexpurgated, whole-nine-yards masterpiece that finds Belfast’s favourite musical son truly surpassing himself. Described by Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie as “Dark star Californian sirens who’ll destroy you with sweet narcosis”, Holmes and co have made the first truly great album of 2016. Unloved? On this sort of form? Not a chance.