“Cool artwork! No, we don’t have it but it’s coming in next week.”
“Cool artwork! We haven’t had a copy in but I can order it for you.”
Me picking it up a week later: “Cool artwork!”
“Imagine This is a High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities” is definitely album title of the year, made all the more topical with the intrusion of Chat-GPT and the like into the cultural conversation. Large Language Models (LLMs) like Chat-GPT work by absorbing large amounts of textual data (i.e. this blog, helping to make all those instant album reviews you can write now just a tiny bit more shit) and breaking them down into tokens, with each token having a meaning and a grammatical role and so on. These meanings and roles form higher dimensional spaces in which the tokens are vectors, where the rules of the LLMs help determine which tokens live near to one another and which pairs are likely to sit together in ‘meaningful’ sentences etc etc.
And what James Holden seems to have done for “Imagine This is a High Dimensional Space of All Possibilities” is a similar thing but with loads of synth sounds and melodies from nineties ambient house records, pulling them apart and putting them together again in new and fascinating ways. Unlike Chat-GPT however, the end result feels new and fresh, a familiar-sounding guide to what is in fact new territory. The alienness of it is the excitement of the new, not the eeriness of something Frankenstein’d together from existing matter.
As I said in my review of Barry Can’t Swim’s “When Will We Land”, to some extent the history of dance music is the history of sampling, both the philosophy of how one uses the samples and the technology one uses to obtain (and latterly obfuscate) said samples. In some ways, this is the history of all music as a whole. There are only so many semitones, and while the number of ways to order those semitones is mind-boggling large (a high dimensional space of all possibilities perhaps), the biology of the human ear and the further filter provided by culture means that those combinations are restricted to the point where repetitions and echoes of the past are all but inevitable.
But what does this mean for the music? Well, it’s a cool blend of classic records and ideas carried onward from his previous album with The Animal Spirits. One of the best tracks is “Contains Multitudes”, it contains about six different tracks trying to get out at once, before settling into one and then giving way to this strange tango-like figure. Despite my claims that this album has a 90s ambient feel, at some points it has more of a jazz or folk feel (things get particularly folky on later tracks like “Four Ways Down The Valley” and “Waves Collide Mountains Form”). “Common Land” sounds to my ears like a modern version of The KLF’s “Chill Out” album, perhaps with a slight undertone of “Last Train To Trancentral”. Elsewhere you get the fleeting sensation of listening to The Orb’s legendary “A Huge Ever-growing Pulsating Brain That Rules From The Centre Of The Ultraworld (Loving U)” or perhaps classic-era Future Sound of London, sometimes just random real instruments appear and take over for a bit.
The whole album has a kinetic nature, but it’s a restless constantly moving piece that never settles in one place for very long. Like many of the great nineties dance ambient mixtapes many themes and riffs are spread across, over and around the arbitrary demarcations in the tracklisting. This is at the least the case for the groups of three tracks that comprise each of the sides of the vinyl album. Each side of vinyl plays like almost a single track to my ears, with the track demarcations of the streaming version feeling more like movements. The artwork reinforces this too, inside the record is a booklet with amazing illustrations by Jorge Velez, one for each track, and as with the music there are themes that run through and repeat, but each individual illustration stands apart from the others. Staring at the pieces is a fun way to listen to the album too.
This album is a masterpiece. It’s not for everyday listening, but instead a wonderful piece to get lost in. I love put it on every speaker in the house and just walking around surrounded by it, but even if you can do that and have it coming into your ears from your headphones instead, you will find a place to take refuge in: I am certain of it.