FIRST PUBLISHED AT THE LINE OF BEST FIT
At some point over the last decade David Holmes’ brand of retro mishmashery seemed to fade from the zeitgeist despite the fact that the Northern Irish producer was reaching a wider audience (and no doubt keeping his bank manager happy) with soundtrack work. His turn to the movie business, principally for Steven Soderbergh, found an appropriate outlet for a producer whose jazzy, hipster vibes have always had a cinematic quality.
I found myself returning recently to that 1997 pre-millennial fave ‘Let’s Get Killed’ and finding that it still works very well. At the time, Holmes seemed a jollier, less cerebral UK alternative to DJ Shadow’s murky vinyl esoteria, minus the state-of-the-hip hop-nation polemic. Both artists wore their record collector hearts on their sleeves, digging deep into the crate for rare grooves and forgotten pyschedelia with which to blend and splice impressionistically. Arguably (for this won’t be a popular statement) ’Let’s Get Killed’ has dated less. Bar the James Bond tomfoolery, the album compares favourably to the prog excesses and more ponderous moments of ‘Entroducing’, still cited as a great album of that decade (it is, of course).
Holmes was always more interested in cinema than hip hop, though, epitomised by the title of his debut “This Film’s Crap, Let’s Slash the Seats!” – an album much mined for its effectiveness as incidental music for television drama but somewhat dated now. Only the slow-motion farewell ‘Gone’ from that early effort makes the grade here, David Holmes’ rather premature ‘Best Of’ compilation, ‘The Dogs Are Parading’, and it blends in well.
However, ‘Let’s Get Killed’ is still the high point in a patchy five album career (not including the soundtrack work and compilations curated by him). Nowhere else was his brooding cinematic sampledelica better applied than that ‘concept album’, woven together around authentic sampled voices – some menacing, some eccentric – from the New York streets and underworld. That album’s enduring status is reflected in the heavy representation here with four fine tracks.
The soundtrack-to-an-unmade-movie conceit continued into 2000′s ‘Bow Down to the Exit Sign’ despite the prevalence of a host of guest singers including Bobby Gillespie, Jon Spencer and Martina Topley-Bird. However this album provided ammunition for critics who said dance music producers were unable to write songs for their mercenary guest vocalists. Incidentally, none of those contributors’ tracks make this compilation, but the fine instrumentals ’Hey Lisa’ and ’69 Police’ do. There is also ‘Living Room’, featuring Carl Hancock Rux, which typifies Holmes erstwhile tendency to overload the sonics to deflect from the weak songwriting.
Arguably David Holmes was at his best when following the zeitgeist, even if he couldn’t claim credit for dictating the trends in which he excelled. The weakest tracks on this compilation derive from his time with the Free Association (circa 2002), whose brand of jazzy trip hoppery – albeit in a band format – was already getting stale. The spasmodic, rather effected vocals of ’(I Wish I Had A) Wooden Heart’ and the cover version of ‘Sugarman’ sound like the works of someone riding an already outmoded bandwagon.
Funny then, that the compilation’s most recent cuts – from 2008′s The Holy Pictures – sound so fresh despite the rather blatant discovery of another revivalist bandwagon: shoegaze (or nu-gaze, as it has been known). Ironically, ‘I Heard Wonders’ and that album’s title track are probably the best vocal tracks Holmes has ever produced, all the more notable for the fact he sings them himself, thrilling pop replete with swerving Kevin Shields distortion and sugar coated reverb.
Overall this two-disk box-set, which includes three new tracks (“The Girlfriend Experience”, “You’re On Fire (Too Fat)” and “The Lower Orders”), works very well: the heady brew of instrumentals melding into a diaporama of filmic mood. While the second disk, which features a mixed bag of contemporaneous remixes of the singles by the likes of Andrew Weatherall, Arab Strap Mogwai and Kevin Shields, is of greater interest to completists (if there are David Holmes completists), ’The Dogs Are Parading’ is still one to stick on shuffle and let soundtrack your life.