(SXSW 2016 flavoured!) Album Review: Holy Esque – At Hope’s Ravine

By on Thursday, 18th February 2016 at 12:00 pm
 

Holy Esque At Hope's Ravine album coverA recurrent theme from the history of many a British band is the use of music as a means of escaping a dead-end town. In the case of Holy Esque, the overwhelming desire of band members Pat Hynes (lead vocals) and Keir Reid (keyboards) to leave the grey industrial confines of post-war created East Kilbride caused their flight to the cultural hub of Scotland. According to Hynes, “Growing up there wasn’t hugely inspiring, other than perhaps giving us this dying need to escape from a young age. It was a major mission to get out of there as quick as we could – and Glasgow was the nearest port of call.”

As that classic saying about Northerners goes, “you can take the boy out of the North, but you can’t take the North out of the boy”, the same can be said about Holy Esque and their music: despite having escaped their desolate corner of Lanarkshire, they haven’t lost the feelings that caused their flight out in the first place, on show in their debut album ‘At Hope’s Ravine’. The LP’s title underlines its songs’ dramatic themes of alienation, darkness and what might be beyond the grey, seen through a hazy, sorrowful lens. It begins on a bombastic note with ‘Prism’, the sheer power of the guitars and drums seemingly desiring oblivion, while Hynes’ rough and tortured vocals try to keep up.

Like fellow Scottish band The Twilight Sad, they’re not shy to take on decidedly less sunny slices of real life. While James Graham put his vocals through its paces on 2009’s ‘I Became a Prostitute’, Holy Esque take on the same topic with album track ‘Doll House’, the second entry in an ongoing trilogy of songs about a streetwalker’s sad life story. (The first was 2012’s ‘Ladybird Love’, and the trilogy ends with recently premiered non-album single ‘Oslo’, which will be released on a limited edition 7” on the same day as the new album.) The haunting guitar line and the overall shoegaze effect are left just enough in the background to let Hynes’ voice to shine through, the sweetheart dance melody belying its true nature. The appropriately titled ‘St.’, swathed with religious imagery and swirly guitars, is explained by Hynes as it “portrays a character that loses everything around him through an actual fear of loss itself, which in turn, results in bitter tragedy.”

On the more upbeat tempo side of things, the older song ‘Silences’ is reminiscent of classic White Lies, the repeated lyric “worst than all this precious pain” confirming their ability to hide true emotion behind an accessible pop melody. So does their debut single from 4 years ago, ‘Rose’, with Hynes wailing, “god knows I’m cold / lying here with my rose”, while synth chords bounce away cheerfully. Self-destruction is the topic of ‘Hexx’, described on the album press release as “a bid for stadium filling greatness”, a claim that can’t be disputed by its driving drumbeat and the feel good guitars. Meanwhile, a tune like ‘Strange’ have that slightly off-centre post-punk quality made famous by Echo and the Bunnymen, while the shadowy synths of ‘Covenant (Ill)’ recalls less dancier moments of new wave giants New Order.

One sticking point remains: how fond are you of Pat Hynes’ gruff, guttural voice? If you can get past it or indeed, enjoy it in combination with Holy Esque’s memorably piercing guitars and agreeable synth lines or are a post-punk fanatic, there’s a lot to like here in ‘At Hope’s Ravine’. Just don’t stand too close to the edge.

6.5/10

The debut album from Holy Esque, ‘At Hope’s Ravine’, will be released next Friday, the 26th of February, on Believe Recordings. The Glasgow-based band will be appearing as one of the Scottish band offerings next month at SXSW 2016. They also have live dates across the UK in March, April and May; have a read over their entire tour here. For more on Holy Esque on TGTF, head this way.

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There Goes The Fear is where we tell you about the latest music, gigs, and tours we love and think you should too.

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