The Idiots Are Winning
ecently, at an old friend’s wedding, I showed up wearing a brand-new and, if I may toot my own horn, badass suit. People were shocked. I don’t suppose that it was the suit itself that surprised them. It was probably the fact that, after a sartorial career littered with Goodwill purchases and loudly-proclaimed allergies to labels, that I’d been caught trying to make myself look good in the first place. “Jesus, James,” everyone might as well have been saying with their eyes, “what’d you do with that ‘ironically’ monogrammed bowling shirt you wore every day back in ninth grade?”
I bring this up because having been introduced to James Holden as a rising Young Turk of—ugh—“progressive trance” around the turn of the century, it’s almost hard to swallow his recent reinvention as the tip of the sword currently piercing the heart of monumentally overt dance music. I say “almost,” because anyone oblivious to the charms of Holden’s work following his oonce-oonce-oonce-ier days might as well jam a meat thermometer in their ear. From the output of his Border Community label to the remix work he’s done for artists like Nathan Fake and Depeche Mode, Holden can arguably claim as large a slice of the Seismically Beautiful Modern Electronica pie as anyone else on the planet. This is not up for argument. But whenever I start considering the merits of his work beyond their value as purely narcotic aesthetic experiences, I always end up in this infuriating feedback loop: just how much credit would you be tempted to give to someone introduced to you by virtue of a DJ Trancey McTrancealott set?
Fortunately, The Idiots Are Winning, Holden’s gorgeously magisterial debut LP, circumvents the question by throwing Holden’s most mortifying characteristics right in your face. Anyone who goes into Holden’s album without a predisposition to worship at the altar of Techno Music For Techno Music’s Sake is pretty much up the creek without a paddle; suffice it to say that if your friends only appreciated Jacques Lu Cont’s remix of “Mr. Brightside” for the way it let them find a new way to bop and drunkenly howl along to Brandon Flowers’ lyrics, you probably don’t need to waste your breath detailing The Idiots Are Winning’s merits. This is a trance album in the truest sense; Holden may adorn his songs’ structures with hazy textural decay and maddeningly inexplicit rhythms rather than car-commercial arpeggios and breathy diva vocals, but they still break down and reassemble themselves in a way immediately familiar to even the most pill-addled glow-sticker.
Fortunately for Holden’s position in the canon, The Idiots Are Winning is also really, really, really good. If you can get past the lamentably passé idiom from which it springs, Holden’s album offers up unabashed virtuosity; there’s practically more instruction about how and why a song can rip itself to shreds and sew itself back together on The Idiots Are Winning’s opening track “Lump” than in entirety of The Knife’s discography. See also: “Idiot,” which celebrates the virtues of stiffness, marrying itself to a rigid 4-4 beat and then populating its empty space with synths which move and breathe easily into the cracks afforded them. It’s an engrossing approach to trance music—hell, for my money it’s an engrossing approach to music full-stop. Anyone with even a passing fascination with the genre’s signifiers needs to at least give it a shot, if just to hear what Holden’s done to them. Will I be listening to it in twenty years? I dunno; given all but the greatest dance music’s half-life, I’d guess not. Of course, I doubt I’ll be wearing that suit in two decades either. But that’s wasn’t the point of buying it. All I ever meant to do was wear the fuck out of it now.
Reviewed by: James Cobo
Reviewed on: 2006-12-01