Hannes Ferm hasn’t always been one to entertain the strict format of pop songwriting. He’s certainly never been quick to prioritize vocal melodies, and once upon a time, it would’ve been hard to imagine them at the forefront of an entire record. In his third album “Ryder,” however, Stockholm-based Hannes Ferm, aka Holy, pivots from his typical format of layered instrumentalism to lacing synthesized soundscapes with meaningful pop lyricism, marking his emergence into the alternative-pop scene as one to be witnessed.
The 11-song, 41-minute album was produced alongside Jacob Haage of El Perro Del Mar and explores the beauty of romance in a post-apocalyptic realm. The album incorporates obvious influences from the 70s and 80s — Kate Bush, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark and the Thompson Twins, to name a few — as well as those of the indie and psychedelic-experimentalist variety.
Right off the bat, the cover art of “Ryder,” communicates a revised image of Holy, depicting a Kahlo-esque style portrait of Ferm, front-and-center, in a devastated setting, reminiscent of Salvador Dali’s surrealist work. A stark contrast to Holy’s prior faceless image, the cover art establishes the mood of the album, while serving as a first illustration of Holy’s new presence within the pop scene.
“3000 Years In Show Biz” kicks off the album, full of energy, synthesizers and perhaps a bit too much influence from Tame Impala’s “Currents,” album. This song contains no lyrics, instead segueing directly into “The Ryder,” a much calmer tune that introduces the concept of the album.
In an interview with NBHAP, Ferm describes “Ryder” as “a feeling of riding through the end of the world. Enjoying it you know. But seeing the beauty in a world falling apart,” joking that “it sounds cooler with a ‘y’.” In “The Ryder,” this picture is painted through consistent rhythmic and melodic tempos, with vocals at the forefront and varying instrumentation in the background.
In a change of mood, a passionate Ferm details the emotions felt toward this figurative “ryder” in “Flames,” a harrowing work brought to life by chime-like synthesizers, prolonged rests and dramatic fades and re-entries. At first, the vocals are compressed and quiet, but they quickly transition into the large, anthemic mishmash of reverberating drum machines and vocals that become the hallmark of this tune, this album, and Holy as an independent artist. In a similar manner, “Forget About Life,” a love song written from the perspective of a dead person, plays with light melodies, syncopated rhythms, and loose vocal harmonies to sprinkle a bit more romance into this weird, post-apocalyptic world.
Despite this stand-alone concept and the experimental nature of the record, however, there are some songs in which the meaning and overall structure get lost within the texturing of sounds. With such abundant use of a single instrument, arises the risk of monotony. In “ILY Wild Horse” there are echoes of Ferm’s not-so-pop sound which integrates the human voice as an instrument, rather than a focal element of the music. Similarly, in “You Shine On Me (feat. Boys),” the instrumentation and progressively-integrated layers seem to overtake the vocals of the song.
In contrast, though, there are points within the album where the synthesization used and, rather than watering the music down, they fuse to create a larger-than-life soundscape comparable to those of M83 and STRFKR. “Aries,” a 4.5-minute song, closes out the album with grand crescendos, a rather consistent bass line and one final explosion of sound that fades gracefully into filtered vocals, speaking the final lines of the album.
When asked about this drastic transition to pop music, Ferm said he wanted to try creating pop songs just to see whether or not he could. Drawing inspiration from Kate Bush, Ferm describes the songwriting process as taking place alongside the production. In other words, the lyrics to “Ryder” were concocted specifically to suit the corresponding instrumentation.
Accompanying this change of sound and presence, of course, comes a change of image, with Ferm now in close contact with stylists and designers while simultaneously abandoning his plethora of on-stage instruments for a single mic, again, taking center stage. With this quick jump and easy glide onto the alternative-pop spectrum, Holy is certainly an artist to keep an eye (and an ear) out for.