Review Summary: A journey to the farthest reaches of inner and outer space..
It can hardly be disputed that the art of the mix cd is a beautiful one when done properly. Of course, there are "rules" to abide by: The mix cd must not be too long. The mix cd must not contain two songs by the same artist consecutively. The mix cd should be generally diverse in the styles contained therein. And finally, the mix cd should have appropriate peaks and valleys as it progresses, with heavier and lighter songs ordered properly so as to give the mix cd a sense of character. James Holden violates all of the above rules with the exception of the last in piecing together his Balance 005 Mix. Prior to hearing the actual mix one may take that as a good thing or a bad thing. Upon hearing the actual mix one cannot help but take it as a great thing. This is house, this is trance, this is techno, this is IDM, this is progressive, this is pure magic on two discs.
James Holden has one LP, three mix cd's and dozens of remixes and original productions to his name, not to mention a mathematics degree from Oxford. He burst onto the EDM scene in 1999 at the ripe age of 19 with his breakthrough hit Horizons, which garnered massive praise from the likes of dance gods Sasha and John Digweed. While his career has had its fair share of successes and highlights the 2004 Balance 005 mix unquestionably stands as his grand statement...so far.
Disc 1 is the fan favorite and runs almost flawlessly throughout its 70-minute run time. Opener The Difference it Makes invitingly makes its way out of the speakers like a lush electro waterfall and continues to build with a gradually pulsating beat that is sure to please. Choppy vocals enter the mix nearly midway and continue to get distorted. The already unorthodox sounds continue as they blend into the brief Antrieb, similarly pulsating yet much more bouncy and minimal than its predecessor. This mixes smoothly into several more short tracks that begin to sound more and more ominous, cluing the listener into an inevitable approaching climax. This climax comes by way of Petter's All Together, which happens to be one of the most uniquely constructed electronic songs ever. The kicks, snares, hi-hats and overdubs all sound extremely metallic in nature, very bionic. Over the course of its seven minutes it morphs into an even darker, looming track that could easily be the music to a nightmare. After two shorter transition tracks we arrive at Avus' Real, arguably the deepest track in the entire mix. Characterized by a very dark and danceable sound with menacing vocal effects this track also contains a sample of the late great comedian Bill Hicks recommending everyone to try a psychedelic experience at some point. Next we have Do What You Want, a beautiful vocal track about falling in love with someone already in a relationship; a definite highlight. This seamlessly blends into what I consider the highlight of the entire mix, Nathan Fake's Outhouse. A very delirious and fuzzy remix of the song transitions incredibly into the original mix, a pounding, uber-psychedelic trip of a song that lasts nine glorious minutes. Next is You Are Sleeping, a fan-favorite that consists of a very intriguing and alternating beat with a remarkably disturbing male vocal monologue about a prostitute and her savior. This simply must be heard. The last two tracks, much lighter in nature, peacefully wind down the first disc and the first half of a remarkable journey.
Disc 2 begins with the anything-but-subtle Happy, with ominous synthesizers that give way to a very slinky and sleazy beat reminiscent of NIN's Closer that crawls along and is accompanied by an equally sensual vocal performance. This blends seamlessly into arguably the best transition track on the whole mix, Meerkat's Colours, a lush rainbow of music that sounds like an electronic xylophone. After ending far too quickly a few more transition tracks give way to Holden's own The Wheel, a relatively calm, minimal track that in itself mixes perfectly into another standout of the second disc, Lifeformation, featuring a gorgeous and uplifting melody. After the very funky and bouncing Ghetto Server we arrive at the other contender for highlight of the mix, Gil Norris' Forme, an absolute masterwork of electronica characterized by a watery and dreamy sound with an irresistibly beautiful synth melody backed by an appropriately bouncy beat. After two more mellow tracks, Eli and Tone Diary, we arrive at another standout, Form and Function's Wonderland. With an irresistible melody that morphs throughout the track it transitions perfectly into the album closer, a mellow five-minute tune that signifies the end of the two-and-a-half-hour journey. And what a journey it is.
With this mix James Holden solidified his place in EDM history. He produced a mix that serves as a daunting apex of the format and while this would represent the undisputed peak of most other DJs' long and fruitful careers James Holden was just getting started; a scary thought indeed. Recommended very highly for electronic connoisseurs and novices alike.