Review Summary: Life in full color.
Wassily Kandinsky, a Russian painter, once said, “Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul.”
On The Greatest Mistake of My Life
Holding Absence emerge from the drab, monochrome shadows of youthful angst that primarily defined their self-titled debut and reawaken with twelve songs which embrace a full-colored emotional spectrum full of passion and massive hooks. The Greatest Mistake of My Life
(referred as TGMOML hereafter) is one-part conscious step into a more accessible, mainstream arena and another part expansion of sound spurned by maturity, artistic growth, and well, lineup stability.
Holding Absence has seemingly always had lineup shakeups throughout the band’s existence. After the departure of guitarist Feisal El-Khazragi to Loathe in the middle of the Holding Absence
recording sessions and the surprising resignation of bassist James Joseph immediately after the recording of TGMOML, the band has finally established foundation with vocalist Lucas Woodland, guitarist Scott Carey, and drummer Ashley Green. This trio’s longevity, despite the coming and going of other members, has led to the tighter, brighter songwriting heard on their second full-length release.
Clear from the very beginning of the slow-stirring piano notes of “Awake”, the entirety of the album was crafted to be an auditory experience. From the formal front cover text to the warm ambience every song is wrapped within to the brief interludes which are dotted within the tracklisting - every lyric sung and note played was placed with strategic intention to create the most captivating experience possible.
Listeners have just over a minute to mentally prepare themselves for the journey before they are swept away by a wave of emotion when Woodland belts “I’m aliiiiiive!” during the opening of the soaring “Celebration Song”. A partner song in concept with “Mourning Song” tucked away at the end of the tracklisting, the band describe “Celebration Song” as being “…a celebration of life after depression, in the joyful disbelief that you made it this far.” If anything can be gained from one listen to “Celebration Song”, it’s clear Holding Absence are relieved to put their moody, challenging early years behind them in hopes of a better, brighter future.
Second single “Afterlife” continues showing off the band’s brighter hues and opens with a glimpse of the catchy refrain before bursting into a driving riff and carefully placed keys. Jumping between restrained verses and controlled bursts into a compact chorus, “Afterlife” is a lean, energetic piece born for play on airwaves. “Die Alone (In Your Lover’s Arms)” is a stirring, powerful ballad which features a duet between Woodland and his sister, Caitlin Woodland. Unsurprisingly, their voices dance around each other with ease and create one of the album’s most heartfelt, memorable moments.
No one song demonstrates the band’s skill at writing a genuinely jaw-dropping arena hit more than first single, “Beyond Belief”. Opening with bouncy guitars, thumping bass, and Green’s propelling drums, the song blooms into a massive chorus reminiscent of a modern day Gutterflower
-era Goo Goo Dolls. Throughout the song there are interesting little songwriting tricks on display that may slip by on initial listens which make the song catchier than it deserves to be. If listened to carefully, listeners will hone in on plenty of harmonizing vocals, keyboard swells, and shifts in dynamics which help craft the bigger than life feeling of the song. Woodland even sneakily switches up the end of the chorus at the conclusion of the song, creating a massive singalong moment that needs to be heard to be believed. These little details exemplify Holding Absence’s smart songwriting and are often the catalysts in separating these charming, timeless moments in various songs across TGMOMY from flat, standard radio rock songs which oftentimes fail to rouse an even tepid emotional response.
While Holding Absence frontload TGMOML with happier, more upbeat tracks, the band wisely decided to include a few songs which add a darker contrast to the shinier ones. Curiously enough, three of these pieces are sequenced back-to-back-to-back in the tracklisting. “Drugs and Love” opens with hushed spoken word, squealing feedback, and thunderous drums. Self-described by the band as exploring “…the constant use of love and drugs as ways of escapism, and maintaining people’s denial over their true, deeper problems”, the song pushes and pulls from moody verses to a gloriously sorrowful chorus with Woodland pleading, “Make me numb/with drugs and love/What will save me from my solitude/I’ve nothing left to turn to/Help me find a way to medicate
”. The tempo slows considerably for third single, “In Circles”. Inspired by cyclical monotony of daily life, Woodland muses about his life’s purpose and whether daring to dream will truly get him anywhere meaningful. Despite being one of the lighter songs sonically, the subject matter is weighty and compels one to think about their daily routine and what opportunities may be passing by. Fans of the band’s heavier material will be satisfied by “nomoreroses”, which comes across as an impromptu spiritual exorcism for Woodland as he yells, “I’ve waited all my life/to see this holy light/you’re smothering my eyes/I wanna see it, I wanna feel it/the harder that I pray/the more you make it rain/I’m soaked in all this pain/forgive me for drowning
”. The lyrics here are gripping and showcase the vulnerability of Woodland and his search for spiritual relief. Woodland’s frustration and despair are on full display here shifting from full-throated screams to pleading in his trademark tenor as the song unwinds with one last scream swallowed up by acoustic guitar and keys.
Despite the band’s refined songwriting, TGMOML narrowly misses out on being considered a classic due to two slight criticisms. First, there are a few moments throughout the album, most notably on “Curse Me with Your Kiss” and “Die Alone (In Your Lover’s Arms)” where the band refuses to swing into a third chorus and the decision is absolutely maddening. Both songs feature extended outros, which in theory is understandable because this album was crafted to be an experience. However, refusing to revisit huge, addicting choruses to bolster conceptual integrity or whatever seems like such a misstep – especially when some of these choruses are top tier in the genre. Even if the songs themselves swelled to five or six minutes due to their inclusion, there is little justification in bleeding out the last two minutes of “Curse Me” and “Die Alone” without another chorus. Second, the interludes are hit or miss. “Awake” is the perfect table-setter for “Celebration Song”, but “Phantoms” does little to lead into the towering closer of “Mourning Song” and if included at all, should have been tacked onto the end of “Die Alone” – after the addition of that missing third chorus, of course. Finally, the title track should have been a hidden track. Despite “The Greatest Mistake of My Life” being the inspiration behind the concept of the album, the cover serves as an unnecessary outro because “Mourning Song” closes the record remarkably well. This leaves “The Greatest Mistake of My Life” sounding like a near afterthought and that is a shame.
That being said, The Greatest Mistake of My Life
should be viewed as a triumph for Holding Absence. By trading the past album’s drab monochrome for a whole new color palette of sounds and experimentation, Holding Absence has carefully crafted an album’s worth of memorable melodies, captivating choruses, and poignant passion. With the release of The Greatest Mistake of My Life
, Holding Absence should be considered a standout artist in modern rock and shockingly, their best still may be yet to come.