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San Holo’s debut ‘album1’ creates an organic, wildly imaginative world centered in indie dance [LP Review]

Despite his almost instant success with the breakthrough hit “Light,” it hasn’t always been an easy road for San Holo. The Dutch talent, born Sander van Dijck, has spent the entire past year pinned up in his studio in the Netherlands working tirelessly to ensure a debut album that would stand on it’s own two feet. The result is an outpouring of pure passion, ambition, and pulsating creativity he is calling album1, which is out now on San Holo’s own imprint, bitbird.

Image result for san holoNot only does the LP leave two firm footprints on the dance music world, it represents a stampeding sonic soirée showcasing San Holo’s love for all kinds of music. It’s a 12-track masterpiece bringing together everything from EDM and post-rock to classical and ambient.

Need further evidence? The proof is in the pudding with album1. Look no further than the slew of singles he’s already released off the album in “worthy,” “lift me off the ground,” “forever free,” “voices in my head,” and “surface.” Now San Holo’s full body of work offers a deeper look into his masterful interplay of complex rhythms, home grown guitar melodies, lo-fi tinged analog synths, soaring strings, and multi-layered sampling techniques.

“I want you to be able to listen to this album for yourself and create your own stories, memories, and experiences linked to the music,” says van Dijck of the project. “To me, one of the most exciting things of making music is expanding my own taste and giving listeners an opportunity to expand theirs.” 

In addition to being sonically groundbreaking, the album is emotional, authentic, and deeply personal. Take the album’s seventh track, “love (wip),” which uses a cassette tape recording from French producer and bitbird signee Cassini as it’s foundation. “There’s something magical about tape,” San Holo told Billboard in an exclusive. “It sounds so warm and compressed, and it’s so much fun to play with the tape speed to create pitch effects.”

The song, which San Holo re-recorded onto Ableton, features a soundscape of spoken words in the background talking about love. “I think a lot about love and what it means to me, and that’s a common trend for a lot of my songs,” he continues.

Fans can also look to “Worthy” as another deeply personal track, which he alludes to as his first big step towards pinpointing a new sound direction for the San Holo project. He had always wanted to put more organic guitar elements into his music, but felt they were always “forced” and “unnatural” in the “melodic trap bass game” he was innovating back in 2014. “Worthy” touches on feelings of worth in a personal relationship of his. San Holo says of the track,

One day a girl asked me, “Do you even need me?” and deep down I knew that the answer was “no.” I don’t think you should be in a relationship with someone because you need him or her. You can not make each other happy. You can, however, enhance each other’s happiness, and that’s what the song is about. This is one of the most personal songs on the album, so I had to do the vocals myself.

Not only that, the song marks the first time San Holo successfully channeled the ambient, post-rock sounds of Sigur Ros and Explosions in the Sky into his musical repertoire. Crisp, clean guitar elements, ambient melodies, and dreamlike sequences run smoothly together against a big, half-time trap beat for a composition that is both ethereal and yet grounded.

Another stand out track on the album is “forever free,” featuring Duskus, whose another artist supported and released on bitbird. The track got it’s beginnings in a small vocal chop that Duskus sent over to San Holo, which evolved into a unique house song with a lo-fi melody to blend with the running theme of the album. The track also features warm electric guitar progressions reminiscent of Explosions in the Sky, whom are clearly a huge musical inspiration of his. A cinematic outro then closes the song with the listless beauty of a soaring violin solo (care of Yasmeen Al-Mazeedi), which was then re-recorded to sound like an old string quartet.

At the end of the day, album1 represents a mosaic of so many textures, styles, genres, and feelings. It’s a complete rejection of the future/melodic bass sound that’s been stamped to his name over the years, although some elements have surely stuck around. It’s a turn toward the organic elements of indie dance, drawing inspirations from the 90s/early 2000s era of emo, alternative, and progressive rock and fusing them with electronica. Suffice it to say, it’s artistic, innovative, wildly imaginative, and as fluid as a storybook.

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We can’t wait to see what kind of live experience San Holo builds around this new evolutionary sound he’s created for himself and his audience. San Holo embarks on his 35-date album1 accompanying tour later this fall, featuring support from Said The SkySlow MagicChet Porter, and more.