As the industry and media increasingly favor the most marketable, redundant, and safe artists, truly inventive and ambitious independent musicians are leaning towards the DIY possibilities of digital production for their collaborations, promotions, and releases. Such is the case for English composer and songwriter John Holden. On his debut record, Capture Light, Holden takes a page from masterminds like Alan Parsons and Arjen Anthony Lucassen (Ayreon) by using a host of contributors to bring his scores to life. The end result is a diverse, surprising, and consistently charismatic collection that mergers progressive rock with bits of World music, folk, classical, and other styles. As such, it’s both an internally alluring—if somewhat too sentimental and sweet—LP and an external example of how some of the most striving and interesting new work is being made under the radar.
Holden discovered a love for music at an early age, confessing, “the idea that there are no rules or boundaries has always appealed to me.” This sentiment obviously led to the vision behind Capture Light, which meant that he’d have to surpass “a succession of learning curves.” For instance, he found that “if the music needed a particular sound then [he] would have to learn how to play that instrument.” Luckily, Holden was able to enlist the help several shining players to bring his ideas to life—including bassist/guitarist Billy Sherwood (Yes), keyboardist Oliver Wakeman (Yes), drummers Gary O’Toole (Steve Hackett) and Emily Dolan Davies (The Darkness), vocalists Lee-Anne Beecher, Joe Payne (The Enid), and Marc Atkinson, and producer/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Robin Armstrong (Cosmograf). It’s no surprise, then, that Capture Light is so vibrant, unpredictable, and fulfilling.
The lengthiest track here, opener “Tears from the Sun” is also a clear highlight of the sequence. Inspired by the myth of the “Seven Cities of Gold” that “led to several expeditions by adventurers such as conquistadors in the 16th century,” it builds carefully with a merging of tribal percussion and tones—as well as strings, piano, synths, horns, and other rich textures—that place you in a robust aural world. After that initial set-up, the middle portion masterfully complements its central piano ballad narrative with grandiose, almost pious chants that blend male and female harmonies with more gorgeous timbres (such as acoustic guitar arpeggios). Near the end, the intricate first portion returns (with a bit more bite), bringing the composition full circle. Like the rest of the record, it’s a notably exploratory, original, and stylish journey.
Subsequently, selections like “Crimson Sky” and “No Man’s Land” emphasize catchy, angelic singing and bold, majestic arrangements (including saxophone, strings, piano, electric guitar, and feisty drumming). In a way, they evoke artists like Mike Oldfield, Manning, Big Big Train, and Phideaux while also feeling distinctively Holden. In contrast, the title track and “One Race” soar with operatic regret and [mostly] sparse instrumental realizations (although both have their delightful flights of fancy). True to its name, “Dreamcatching” (which “is dedicated to the memory of Red Hawk. . . . [who] spent his life teaching others about Native American culture and seeking after the truth”) combines environmental proclamations with earthly beauty (courtesy of elements like woodwinds, light syncopation, and various swirling layers), whereas closer “Seaglass Hearts,” with its hopeful airs and warmth, captures the essence of a concluding spiritual quest. Like its predecessors, it oozes uplifting musicianship and empowering lyricism.
Capture Light can feel a tad too saccharine at times, but there’s no denying the strength of its convictions and the joy of its sounds. Here, Holden proves to be a remarkably imaginative and focused architect who uses his guest talent to great effect. It’s a majorly calming and introspective experience bursting with organic qualities and ambitious arrangements; that said, there are also plenty of more exciting and intricate passages along the way that mix well with their serene surroundings. As a result, Capture Light is a luminous creation in every way.