Holy Holy is no longer content with being known as “another bunch of blokes onstage rocking,” according to guitarist and producer, Oscar Dawson. With their third album, My Own Pool Of Light, they’ve banished the traditional rock music they’re celebrated for. In 2017, the duo’s sophomore album, Paint – a guitar-based album immersed in new-wave glory, peaked at #7 on the ARIA Australian Albums Chart, with lead single “Darwinism” becoming the most-played track on Australian national youth radio station, triple j. Two years later, Holy Holy is driven higher and further.
My Own Pool Of Light contains the best collection of stories in Holy Holy’s career. The propulsive bass featured in previous tracks like “Willow Tree” is much more prominent, directing the unyielding rhythm of the hit single, “Faces.” The duo, alongside permanent drummer Ryan Strathie, employs drum loops and sampled beats. For the first time, Carroll opts to pitch-shift his vocals. Holy Holy have also brought in some good friends, including Gab Strum (Japanese Wallpaper) on synths, and back up singers, Ainslie Wills and Ali Barter. From the powerful opening drums and synth-laden mourning of album opener, “Maybe You Know” to the quietly devastating closer, “St Petersburg” Holy Holy graciously shift from their past; while promising another luscious, fulfilling journey.
The soaring melodies, gorgeous instrumentation, and the genius balance of joy and melancholy Holy Holy are renowned for has not gone amiss. Their songwriting is still breathtaking and boundlessly memorable, the riffs are indeed still here, plus Tim Carroll’s voice remains flawless. In fact, the band has honed in on their central elements even further. My Own Pool Of Light’s emotional core undoubtedly sits with “Flight” and “Sandra” – two songs that delicately and truthfully capture living in today’s social climate. Carroll incorporates pitch shifting during “Flight” to mask the distress of his real-life experiences in his previous profession: working as a social worker in a refugee settlement. There, he witnessed the horrific effect of unspeakably cruel government policies that aim to dehumanize asylum seekers. “Flight” seamlessly flows into the dynamic eight-minute epic, “Sandra.”
Moved by Melbourne transgender woman Sandra Pankhurst’s biography, The Trauma Cleaner, Carroll drew from key chapters of her book and examined the appalling stories of homophobia and transphobia. To be clear, Carroll contacted Sandra Pankhurst and shared his ideas before requesting her blessing to name the song after her. Tim Carroll and Oscar Dawson are allies to the LGBTQIA+ community, not spokespeople. As a storyteller, Carroll’s sole ambition is to write stories concerning “all kinds of aspects about the world we live in and the injustices we see.” And, as a straight white male, “I would never purport to be a voice for trans rights.”
Holy Holy rectify their past hurdles with My Own Pool Of Light. For a band distinguished in creating remarkable melodies and godly climaxes, the ballad has been the thorn stuck inside their collective sides. This time around, the ballads are simply stunning. Album closer, “St Petersburg” takes us all the way back to the band’s debut album, When The Storms Would Come, where the latter’s closer, “The Crowd” also ended with Carroll and a piano. “Frida” – named after Carroll’s daughter – encompasses devastating commentary on gender stereotypes, as well as the dangers navigating our world as a non-male. Queue Courtney Barnett’s “Nameless, Faceless” for an incensed account of the “it’s a man’s world” narrative Holy Holy is challenging. Carroll is tired of women being left out of their own stories, controlled, and constantly put in harm’s way. “Frida” inspires action with a call-to-arms: “don’t you stay there on the outside.”
“Maybe You Know” and “Teach Me About Dying” are two sides of the same coin. They might soundtrack my 23rd birthday in a fortnight’s time. They may possibly soundtrack road trips down to your favorite beach, or your favorite city. Less obvious is just how personal those songs are. Led by an entrancing rhythm, “Maybe You Know” tackles depression and suicide, after knowing one too many friends taking their own lives (“maybe you know/but you’re loved by everyone/or maybe you don’t/and you feel like you’re alone”). On the other hand, “Teach Me About Dying” sees our narrator learning how to live. Carroll is urgent, he is real, and he is free.
Freedom is crucial throughout My Own Pool Of Light. Not only have Holy Holy embraced interesting ideas over perfection, but five years following their debut release, The Pacific EP, the band has never sounded so sure of their creative vision. Handclaps, guest vocalists, a ton of synths, propulsive basslines and less guitar than ever, My Own Pool Of Light is the definitive Holy Holy record. Yep, I said it. Sure, the mid-section repurposes ideas – “Hatswing” mimics the groove of “Faces” while “Starting Line” whirls to a height recalling Paint’s “Gilded Age,” but it doesn’t even matter. Dawson’s guitars are on the rack, and he’s totally poised without them.
Five years ago, Holy Holy pleaded for us to meet them on the right side of history. Will you join them there?