This, Holden’s fourth album, opens with a sample warning “Il faut faire attention…” There are a couple of ways to translate this into English, one being “You must be careful” and the other “You must pay close attention.” Both are relevant: with a Holden album, you must be careful not to make rapid judgements – and it definitely pays to listen closely. You could equally stick it on as background music and it would fulfil that function admirably; Holden, superficially, are EZ, with their tasteful bossa vibes and singer Armelle Pioline’s undemonstrative vocals. They certainly don’t demand your attention – previous album, 'Chevrotine', began with the plainest tune on the record, 'Comme Je Suis'. But, as with ‘Chevrotine’, ‘Fantomatisme’ starts to grow in the mind after a couple of listens, the intricacies of its dream-logic arrangements, and the melodic nuances, gradually finding purchase. It took three listens before I even noticed a section in the raga-rocky ‘Les Grandes Chevals’ where the whole song appears to be coming out of a stereo at the other end of a deserted beach for a few moments.
The increasing insubstantiality (not meant as a criticism!) of their recordings has been a work in progress with Czech producer and polymath AtomTM (aka Atom Heart/Señor Coconut) since he and the group began collaborating on album two, ‘Pedrolira’. The swinging yé-yé groove of that album’s ‘Je Te Reconnais’ and the striking soundtrack-isms, that placed them in the vicinity Stereolab’s poppier moments, have been sublimated and their art refined to the point where the album’s title, ‘Fantomatisme’, is an appropriate name for their approach; the recordings have a disembodied quality (Armelle’s voice is subtly tweaked and manipulated at various times throughout to gorgeous, shimmery effect) and they also stay with you long after you think you’ve moved on.
Once you’ve learned the ropes, it does become clear these are largely songs in the old-fashioned sense, and very well-structured ones at that, while the disco-lite ‘Mia’ is a very solid proposition indeed. They’re not buried behind the sound in a My Bloody Valentine way, it’s just that their pleasures are designed to be slow-release. But who knows? Maybe on the next album all that will remain are a few vaporous guitar chords and the sound of the breeze.