Friday, July 16, 2010

Holy Sons - Criminal's Return

“Criminal’s Return,” the latest offering from Holy Sons, is like thickly printed Braille for the ears. There is a tactile connotation to it that suggests roughly used and stained surfaces, and yet there is a certain placidity to it, too - something scarred and whole about the songs. The music is lush and dense at times, and sedately sparse and haunting at others. All without losing a sense of continuity. Even in the low points, there is always a wash of sound just at the edges of our ears’ reach.

Emil Amos uses ambient tones, solid guitar work and soberingly philosophic lyrics to drive the album from start to finish. The sound of waves gently tumbling onto a beach leads into the first song, “From Now On”, and Amos’ melancholic voice soon follows, singing like someone on the low side of a night of drinking when the hours of debauched gaiety are more than half over and every minute is another step closer to a morning that would be better put off. “Every night is a wasted chance to change and every dawn, from now on.”

The meat of “Criminal’s Return” is fuller than any of Amos’ previous releases as Holy Sons, save “Drifter’s Sympathy”, and is heavily influenced by his work as the drummer for Grails. There are large spaces filled only with instrumentation and samples where Amos lets the music breath. We are submerged in sound and drawn up lightly by his voice. Neither overwhelms the other and the two compliment each other symbiotically, each caressing and supporting the other. Meanwhile, the samples, prudently and purposefully chosen, enhance the sense of haunting sadness and slight heartache that runs throughout the album.

Timothy Horner, the ex-violinist from the Grails who has since disappeared form the music scene, aids Amos on a few tracks recorded in 2005 and stashed away to wait for a fitting project. “Criminal’s Return” appears to be it. It is hauntingly dystopian and conceptual, and marks an advance in the ever-growing body of work produced by one of the most prolific artists of today. Amos has succeeded in crafting an album that sounds at once layered and sparse, and yet retains a measure of continuity. It is the kind of album that takes a couple of listens to get into but quickly becomes a favorite for rainy days or long walks.