New Music Reviews: Avalon Emerson and James Holden

This week I cover two solo artists – neither of whom I was familiar with before this year. It’s my favourite brace of records so far this year.

Avalon Emerson

& the Charm

2023, 9/10
Avalon Emerson has spent her music career to date as a DJ. Her reinvention as the vocalist for a dream-pop record is unexpected. She used Jeff Tweedy’s How To Write One Song as a guide, album opener ‘Sandrail Silhouette’ was one of the first songs written for the project, coming together quickly. But it’s terrific. Emerson’s gentle and airy vocals sound great on these dreamy pop songs. She name checks the Cocteau Twins as an influence, and they’re a good reference point, even if the sound palette is more contemporary and Emerson doesn’t have Liz Fraser’s vocal power.

‘Astrology Poisoning’ is a standout track with its memorable synth hook and a great opening line (“Closer to the sun / Just hit 31”). The funky guitars of ‘Sandrail Silhouette’ recall the Cocteau Twins’ Heaven and Las Vegas. Even on the quieter tracks, Emerson’s ear for a tune is unerring.

Avalon Emerson’s debut as a pop artist is a sophisticated delight.

James Holden

Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities

2023, 8.5/10
James Holden has been a successful recording artist since the 20th century. At the age of 19, he recorded the single ‘Horizons’, using freeware software. He’s back with his fifth album, which he describes as:

“I wanted this to be my most open record, uncynical, naive, unguarded, the record teenage me wanted to make. I used to balance my clock-radio on a wardrobe to catch the faint pirate FM signals from the nearest city, dreaming of what raves would be like when I could finally escape and become a New Age traveller. So it’s like a dream of rave, a fantasy about a transformative music culture that would make the world better. I guess it’s also a dialogue with that teenage me.”

James Holden, Bandcamp

Holden layers organic and electronic instrumentation, providing evocative landscapes like the lead single ‘Contains Multitudes’. ‘Worlds Collide Mountains Form’ sounds like it could have been taken from Eno’s 1975 masterpiece Another Green World.

It might not be the effect that Holden was aiming for, but Imagine reminds me of growing up in the 1980s and playing primitive text based adventure games on a Commodore 64. It’s an impression aided by song titles like ‘The Missing Key’ and ‘You Are In a Clearing’.

Imagine This Is A High Dimensional Space Of All Possibilities is gorgeous and immersive.

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  1. Avalon Emerson’s vocals sound pretty good. While musically it’s not quite my cup of tea, she seems to be a very quick study and you’d never guess she’s all new to writing and recording her own music!

  2. Avalon Emerson & the Charm… her voice is more like a child or a whisper but I have to admit it works for this and I would think for the rest looking at the rating.
    James Holden has too much artificial sounds for me…but that is just me. On the other hand I listened to it and it’s almost controlled chaos making a wall of sound…so it is interesting…I give it that. It makes me think of the Who in some ways.

      • It works for her music… I guess that is what matters to anyone…no matter how talented they are…know your limitations (everyone has them) and work around it and enhance it.

        • I guess sometimes limitations make bands more interesting – Meg White’s drumming is a famous example.

  3. I’ve been listening to the Holden track more. I do like it much more than the first couple of listens. I think it’s because I hear something else that I missed before. To say it again…it is very interesting.

    • Cool – I’ve listened to it a bunch and it’s pretty strong, it’s long but never runs out of momentum and always packed with ideas.

      • It’s almost like a musical collage in that rhythm. It turned me off at first because of the sound but it grew on me. He threw a lot of sounds in there but it works as one.

    • Yeah, she has really good pop sensibilities for someone who hasn’t focused their efforts there much.

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