Holding On by Peter James (Review)

Melancholic dark ambience that is as good as anything I’ve purchased from the likes of Projekt, Cold Meat Industries, Manifold, Soleilmoon, etc.

I sometimes find myself wondering, if only halfheartedly, how much longer it’ll be before I stop buying CDs altogether. And the reason is that there is simply an abundance of great music being released, for free, by such netlabels as Thinner/​Autoplate, Subsource, Lost Children, and Archaic Horizon. (Okay, so not entirely free, since someone still has to pay for the internet connection and bandwidth used, but you know what I mean.)

Take, for instance, the first release on Archaic Horizon: Peter James’ Holding On. Featuring a handful of tracks picked from James’ full-length record as well as a bonus track, Holding On is an exceptionally crafted piece of melancholic dark ambience that is as good as anything I’ve purchased from the likes of Projekt, Cold Meat Industries, Manifold, Soleilmoon, etc.

Though manipulated bass guitar samples provide the core elements of the EP’s five songs, the sonic palette here runs much deeper and darker, with ghostly synths, sparse piano melodies, and haunting streaks of droney feedback also drifting through the songs’ vast spaces.

Aurora” certainly does conjure up mental pictures of the Northern Lights, but with a foreboding undercurrent that speaks of cosmic depth and humanity’s insignificance, or of journeying through alien, forbidden zones like those in a Tarkovsky movie. And yet, beautiful filigrees manage to filter and drift through the ominous sounds, be they sparse pianos or a latticework of crystalline bells.

In The Face Of Loss” appropriately opens on an even bleaker, more chilling note, with arctic winds howling across the song’s surface as metallic drones loom outward somewhere below the ice. And yet, even those drones, submerged miles below in the song’s icy depths as they are, coalesce into a haunting, solemn melody.

I’ve always seen this as the earmark of truly good darkwave and dark-ambient music, the ability to plunge into the darkest depths and, rather than simply assault the listener with an increasingly boring array of supposedly eerie, disturbing sounds, somehow hint at shades of light and even hope. Such is the case with Holding On. James certainly traverses some bleak and barren soundscapes, but there’s a constant tension with the softer, more elegaic elements — which is what ultimately makes Holding On so lovely and intriguing.