“These Semi Feelings, They Are Everywhere”
by trevor elkin
“You just live a long series of these semi feelings that are OK for the moment but don’t leave a significant memory in the long run”
We like to imagine that life is about something enduring and bigger than oneself. Intent on leaving a legacy or believing in a purpose, we tend to dismiss all those ‘lesser’ moments in between; climbing a sunlit stairwell, stroking the pages of a new book, buying a coffee, boring conversations, briefly crushing on something/somebody beautiful, waking up in a new place… That’s all there is. If life is a series of random events, without any meaning, then the fleeting purity of feeling something, anything, in these moments might be just as important? Maybe even more so?
Prague-based electronic musician Ondrej Holy, recording as dné, spent five years devoted to an idea of creating something timeless and enduring. However, in the end ‘These Semi Feelings, They Are Everywhere’, conversely tackles themes of disconnection and superficiality. On this album, he laments the general malaise spiralling out of “Internet-centred hyper-realities” which, in turn, push romance and real relationships ever further away. While this is no rallying cry to live a simpler life, it stems from a desire to understand the temporary moments, the connectors, that we take for granted, which are lost to time and memory.
The road to releasing this album wasn’t at all easy. Deciding first to release an EP – pulling together the disparate pieces of music he had been making – and then an album, put Holy under immense pressure. He tried too hard to bring the sound he wanted to make into the world and, in the process, unexpectedly felt limited in his vision because of the endless possibilities. In short, he began to hate making music. At the same time, his health took a radical turn for the worse (Holy has a rare genetic muscle wasting disorder) and so writing became even more challenging and exhausting. The half-written and unfinished tracks began to haunt him and so he declared, on the release of ‘Like Physical’ in 2013, “The debut album is not happening, I am quitting electronic music”.
Fortunately, the story continues. Holy reflected on the problem and overcame it by imposing his own limitations, on his own terms. He pared down his writing tools to just a simple piano and human hand clap. Unlimited by learned theory and practice of classical training, he was able to reach inside to his innate musicality for his inspiration. Building the tracks, gradually adding samples, strings, guitar and voice, he crafted an album of music he is now at peace with. “I am just happy I made it. It’s comforting. Now I have this thing that’s a part of me”, he tells us.
The album’s running order mirrors that journey from simplicity to regained confidence and complexity. Opening with ‘Meeting Points At 2AM’, a simple yet affecting solo piano melody, everything is held in suspense, an intensely reflective and solitary moment. The same piano switches up on ‘Public Making Out is Like Ugh’, slightly contorted, into a more earnest mood – a pacier intent matched by the sudden return of clipped, sampled beats and tape loop claps. Then with ‘Driving A Car Listening To Bill Burr’s Podcast’ there’s the introduction of more manipulated, sampled pianos and synth brass swells, a lone voice and sinewave tones more in the vain of ambient, chillout soundtracks. In another surprise turn, DJ and journalist C Monts adds some rhymes and jostling vocal textures to the slow grind of ‘Stay Clothed Tho’.
Holy’s fascinating use of field recordings throughout (some are incredibly subtle atmospheres, only noticed on further listens) also lends the whole thing a deeply human sincerity. Holy explains“…sampling sport events is fun, there is audio from a billiard and cricket game on the album. I always look for a certain organic vibe.” As a result even the most sparse, sample-heavy elements vibrate with the overwhelming sense of having come from a living, breathing thing, capable of love. According to Holy, there are no love songs, “it’s just solid piece of those short-lived emotions, there is no love song that would disrupt it.”
If there’s one track on this album that would challenge that idea, it is perhaps ‘Asos Model Crush’. A short, piano piece dedicated to a girl, in a photo on a retail website, describes both the constraints of a crush and yet still dares to dream that anything is possible. It’s this sentiment which ultimately binds the divergent themes on the album. Even in their adventitious, self-contained nature, the possibility of pattern and a meaning beyond their limitations somehow emerges among these songs. Does it matter if these patterns (or indeed any similar construct like hope, faith, the human spirit) don’t actually exist beyond our imagination?
Definitely not. We need them now more than ever.
‘These Semi Feelings, They Are Everywhere’ is out today on Majestic Casual
photo: Radek Brousil