Album Walkthrough: Holy Holy break down their fourth album, Hello My Beautiful World
The fourth album from Oscar Dawson and Timothy Carroll is their most adventurous to date, showing how the pair continue to move forward.
Header image by Simon Eeles.
Holy Holy have come a long way since their debut. Since their debut EP in 2014, the pairing of guitarist Oscar Dawson and vocalist Timothy Carroll have consistently furthered themselves with everything they've released, from the heightened songwriting of their earworming second album Paint in 2017 to the stark, outwards-facing realisations of their 2019 record My Own Pool Of Light; an album which saw Holy Holy evolve their lyricism into some of the most powerful - and essential - of Australia at the time, covering mental health, toxic masculinity, gender stereotypes and more within the confines of the record.
Evolution and growth is something central to the Holy Holy story; the core of the band's being - and their continued presence in Australian music over a decade-long timespan - indebted to how they further themselves in between every record, and how they show it through their songwriting and production. In saying that, the past 18 months or so has brought a sense of evolution to almost every artist, as musicians are driven to experiment and play around with their sound to pass time in lockdown; the end products of which beginning to see the light of day now.
In a way, Holy Holy's fourth album Hello My Beautiful World soundtracks that period for Dawson and Carroll, capturing the growth they were able to achieve despite being held down on opposite sides of state borders. It's an adventurous record that takes Holy Holy to new heights, showing how they're pulling apart their approach to production much like how My Own Pool Of Light showed that in their songwriting. It veers between sub-genres and sounds - many far beyond what Holy Holy have shown in the past - as Dawson and Carroll grapple with what the band could possibly sound like, in a world where all boundaries are thrown out the window and freedom in songwriting prevails.
"We were given all the freedom in the world to do whatever we wanted, and this is what we did," says Carroll on Hello My Beautiful World. Across the course of the album's 14 tracks, the pair show how their creative freedom inspired out-of-the-box thinking well beyond the standard Holy Holy affair; Port Rd, for example, bringing the distinct HH charm together with the hip-hop prowess of emerging rapper Queen P, where elsewhere, contributions Toby Alexander and The Presets' Kim Moyes add orchestral strings and hammering rhythms to the Holy Holy umbrella, in ways that you couldn't see the pair exploring on albums prior.
"It's a work we're proud of. Some of the songs are really different for us, however, at the same time, I feel really connected to this album," continues Carroll, before Oscar Dawson details the album's sound: "When we work with people from different genres, it’s not that we’re totally different from them. There are heaps of similarities too. Music genres aren’t black-and-white," he says. "It's all about the grey zone, and you meet somewhere in the middle. You’re similar enough to be together in the first place; but where you differ is where the light can come through."
It's a statement - a thesis, almost - that comes to light across Hello My Beautiful World. While the album does leap into unexplored worlds for the band, it does so in a way that still carries their distinct charm and edge; Hello My Beautiful World being full of songs that could perhaps feel out of place in Holy Holy's discography if removed from their context, but all together, flow with the precision and richness that you'd expect. It takes a sheer amount of talent and confidence to do that, and now four albums in, it's clear Holy Holy have plenty of that.
Hello My Beautiful World takes Holy Holy further than they've ever ventured before - sonically speaking - and it leaves the door open for numerous musical pathways in their future. In the meantime, you can take a dive into the album below, alongside a track by track walkthrough written from the band, breaking down the album's themes and creation one song at a time:
Driven by the interplay between a sticky string bassline and a Darth Vader synth motif this song always felt good from the beginning. The vocals are chanted and the arrangement features a choir that has a joyful and unhinged quality. We wanted it to sound like a sample. The song builds to a satisfying bass drop in which the orchestral strings swim over a thumping bass drop and beat. It’s about how what you hold to be true can change completely over time. I could believe anything.
How You Been
A sentimental and melancholy banger that attempts to exist in the happy-sad. A pulsing Juno synth and bongo sample combine with the close and intimate vocals which tell the story of someone recovering from heartbreak. The song builds to a May-esque guitar solo - a good one to dance and/or cry to.
The Aftergone feat. CLEWS
We wrote the idea for this in a session with Kim Moyes from The Presets one morning in his home studio in Sydney in a pre-pandemic haze. When we opened the session back in our studio in Dandenong months later we stumbled on this combination of a distorted single-note guitar riff and tambourine feel that has us feeling a bit like Oasis. I was channelling Liam singing the chorus, arms behind my back, the mic set a bit too high. For the pre-chorus, we asked our best buds CLEWS to sing and they added so much character and vibe to the part. Now we’re taking them on the road all around the country so we can sing it together live.
Port Rd feat. QUEEN P
The first single we released off this album. We often like the first song to be a bit of a change-up. It’s a way of resetting expectations. This is a dark and drive-y tune. Queen P and I trade verses and the song is dense with melody, meaning and rhythm. Live, it goes off. Queen P is a super charismatic performer and we just do our best to keep up with her. Over time it’s become one of my favourites.
Hello My Beautiful World
As you reach the halfway mark of the record we bring you here, a 4-minute spoken-word poem set to a string instrumental. I wrote and recorded the poem in my office in Launceston and we worked with a string arranger called Toby Alexander for the string parts which he created based on a composition by Oscar. The poem is as much about what is not said as what is. It’s scary to put something like this out, but we’re also really proud of it.
As you emerge from the poem you’re dropped into this circulating piano melody with a close dry vocal and mournful violins. The hero of this song is the vocal treatment where Oscar really shines as a producer. We play with layers and characters in the vocal and eventually drop a snare backbeat as the song builds in a series of emotional waves.
This is a pop tune I guess. Two characters lie in separate places and dream about each other. “Sleep is the only place I see you”. The song examines that feeling of going over your past and wondering what could have been different. Like when your mind gets stuck in the groove of a record and plays the same fragment again and again. The song is partnered with a water-themed coda.
Stand Where I’m Standing
Our take on a modern Springsteen tune. Japanese Wallpaper had a big hand in this one. The production is intricate and multilayered. In this tune, our main issue was having too many melodies and in the end, we had to cut some. The song is about how much we are shaped by our experiences and that ultimately if you had the experience of someone else’s life you might come to hold their views too.
We were thinking about Robyn and Groove Armada in this song and it sounds nothing like either of them. It’s dancey and beautiful and strange. It has some rolling builds and drops and I think it will play really well in big festival tents. "And even though we’re passing on, we can’t always, help but bruise the closest ones." It’s about how sometimes, by the act of living we hurt people. It’s sometimes a part of what it is to live.
This is a bit of a strange tune. Very rhythmic. It builds on this softly sung series of descending vocal melodies and polyrhythmic clapping (whatever that means). It’s paired with its own coda which is my favourite part of the record. The So Tired Coda is a super vibey build from a single mournful note to a full-blown disco sensation. That’s right!
Here and Now
The record closer seems like a simple piano ballad. Whistling synths and lazy verbed out backing vocals set it up and then it kicks into a James Blake style beat before taking a left turn into a gregorian and heaven flavoured harp and choir section.
We leave you here. Thank you for listening to Hello My Beautiful World.