In the treacherous wasteland of self-published music on the Internet, the life of a music lover with high standards is fraught with hardship and loneliness all around. The number of people who believe a drum machine and free WiFi are the only two ingredients in musical genius is staggering; and the number of listeners who’ve succumbed to this belief—who’ve nodded their heads sheepishly and accepted good music as a lost art—is more discouraging than all of Game of Thrones‘ surprise deaths put together.
But fear not, lovers of music! There are yet a few in this world with the conviction and creativity required to treat the minds of listeners to something they haven’t heard before! One such man is Herwig Holzmann, aka Photophob. Since my introduction to Photophob’s body of work, I’ve devoured each new release with increasing relish, savoring every new morsel of music as though it were more succulent than a plate of the finest ribs from Grumpy’s Roadhouse (if you don’t know Grumpy’s, just… it’s this place that has great ribs; that’s all you need to know). Given this, it should be obvious that when I heard that Holzmann had not only released a new album, but that the album was yet another ode to one of my favorite subjects (science fiction!), I set myself almost immediately to listening with great fervor and an intense focus on detail.
The musical project of Photophob has had a long and storied love for all things science fiction, which is where Holzmann and I find common ground. My favorite work is Dune, but really I love almost ALL sci-fi with a passion rarely kindled for other less inspiring genres. And it appears that the same is true of Holzmann, as the eagerness with which he takes on the subject time and again proves that it’s one never far from his thoughts.
Large Headroom Collider (I love that title, by the way) is divided into two acts by a prelude, “Linear Approximation;” an interlude, “The Venom Particle;” and a fond farewell song in the form of “Colibri,” which acts as a kind of “so long, everybody; I’ll see you next time!” for the album. Both “Linear Approximation” and “Venom Particle” have a very distinctly “movie score” aura to them, which puts the entire recording into this same context.
In this context then, each song takes on new meanings as we envision what type of scene might be played out to the rhythm of each song. And let me tell you, Holzmann makes it pretty darn easy for us most of the time. Take track 2 for example, “Databeast (Unstable Betatest).” A great example of a song’s meaning dictated by its context. The song itself feels unsteady, with exciting but erratic rhythms dropping out just as soon as they get going, Holzmann pulling the song together into some semblance of order, and then allowing it to fall apart into a flurry of beautiful chaos.
Easily the most exciting track on the album is #8, “Attractive Forces.” Quickly conjured up (and with thrilling urgency) is the image or idea of some kind of epic showdown between two formidable enemies (at least, that’s where MY mind goes). Think Feyd Rautha and Muad’Dib, or Oberyn Martell and Gregor Clegane, or Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker. The song lunges, parries and breaks, with flurries of noise followed by quiet moments full of dread. Then, suddenly, at around the 3-minute mark, the song strikes full force, EXPLODING into our headphones with a lurching and deadly struggle between sounds and rhythms; synthesizers and drum machines. When the smoke clears and the battle is over, the only clear winner is the listener. Well done, Photophob.
Also contained on the album are two very beautiful and funky sci-fi ballads, which I already feel certain that I’ll be revisiting many times in the future. The first of these is “Cry (As in Cryogenic),” which contains a very distinct traditional “verse/chorus/verse/chorus” format, and also includes a great little breakdown near the end. The second is called “My Concubine,” which, in addition to reminding me of the Lady Jessica from Dune, happens to also be my preferred song out of the two. It’s got a very tender, melodic groove, which Photophob develops very well over the next few minutes, and which has a way of really sticking in your head long after it’s over.
In all, Large Headroom Collider is a wonderful new album, full of great surprises and very re-listenable songs (another great example being “Haunted,” which sounds like it came right out of Wasteland Vibes, but not as an outtake. [By the way, I suppose this is as good a time as any to mention that Holzmann himself has already pointed out the thematic similarities between this album and Wasteland Vibes.]) (Ever wondered how much punctuation you can fit at the end of one sentence? Now you know!) Photphob’s latest album is available on Bandcamp for a mere five euros, which I’m given to understand is equal to about seven bucks. Do yourself a solid and treat your ears to some of the finest the internet has to offer, today!
RIYL: Aphex Twin, Autechre, Squarepusher
Ed Note: We’ve talked about Herwig Holzmann a lot here at Critical Masses, and we do indeed love his work. Check out our reviews of these albums as well: