Border Community, the label which Holden runs, has a formidable catalogue boasting modern classics such as Fairmont's 'Gazebo' and Holden's own jaw-dropping remix of Nathan Fake's 'The Sky Was Pink'. If one had to locate a dip in form in the BC canon, though, it would be the label's first foray into the full-length album format – namely, Fake's woozy, meandering 'Drowning in a Sea of Love', which alienated those who’d expected ten tracks of ethereal dancefloor action and failed to make any real critical or commercial impact. Translating and expanding club music from 12” to LP format has always been a fraught and uncertain business - so how has Holden approached his debut album?
Holden has always been an outspoken fan of rock and pitched-down electronica (for evidence, check his 'At the Controls' mix from earlier this year), and one might expect 'The Idiots Are Winning', successfully or otherwise, to flit between perceived genres and incorporate a range of styles. It doesn’t.
'Lump' kicks off proceedings – a sticky, jittery groove with a distended, high-pitched vocal wail and twinkling keys that are tweaked and tweaked into magnificently odd shapes. Throughout this album Holden uses 4/4 not as the dominant or guiding feature of his music, but rather as a setting for his experiments in melancholy electronica and drum programming. So while ‘101010’ is, in essence, a house track, the plaintive, delicate melody that bestrides it seems too beautiful and too sad to ever work on a dancefloor. ‘Idiot’ is built out of a dry snare march and messy, panning effects, blossoming into a dark, arpeggiated trance monster at once massively uplifting and massively nihilistic – uncomfortable and effective, it is the album’s inarguable highlight. Elsewhere, Holden’s fussy, fanatically edited and effects-laden style can seem to dampen rather than intensify the core sound, resulting in inward-looking soundscapes where machines talk amongst themselves but not to the listener.
The LP is dominated by variably interesting passages of ambient noise and rhythmic play that you can legitimately construe either as DJ tools or unlistenable scraps. ‘Idiot Clapsolo’ is surely a cutting gathered from the studio floor, and elsewhere the undeveloped ideas are sketches for a future album rather than worthy productions in their own right. In particular, ‘Intentionally Left Blank’ – a few seconds of silence presented as an individual track – feels like an empty statement, the kind of gesture that originally forced Dan Ashcroft from ‘Nathan Barley’ to conclude that ‘The idiots are winning’.
Holden is without doubt one of the most original and interesting producers around, and so one can forgive him a certain self-indulgence, but ‘The Idiots are Winning’ is not the perfect balance of emotion and abstraction which we know from his previous singles that he is entirely capable of. This feels like more like a collection of fragments than a rush of intense, formal artistry.