As part of CMN’s ongoing Music Journalism Course, participants were asked to find a physical copy of an album by an artist they had never heard of. The challenge was to listen and react to the recording without any prior knowledge.
I first discovered Holy Balm at my local record store. CD Central in Lexington, Kentucky has been a place I go to whenever I need to find new vinyl or CDs for my collection. They feature everything from brand new and current vinyl to vintage records that I would use to hang up on my wall, not play.
One of my close friends Marshall and I went into the store so I could discover a new artist and see what they had to offer. I was looking through the pile of records they had on sale and some that were featured on Record Store Day. I stumbled upon a few familiar albums, Icona Pop on sale and a slightly tattered Twenty One Pilots record. I was honestly looking for the cheapest, most interesting record they had.
I looked through the stacks a few times but my eyes were drawn to Holy Balm’s vinyl for their debut album It’s You. The cover art features a bright yellow and blue with a simply drawn palm tree. From the minimalist cover art and title I expected the album to sound similar to Jack Johnson or Mac Demarco. Something slow and steady, very singer-songwriter.
I thought this CMN Music Course challenge was very interesting, I have never picked something to listen to solely based on the album cover or randomly picked a record to listen to. I’ve always based my music taste on what I’ve listened to in the past or what sounded appealing to me. Picking out something by just using the visuals was a new experience for me.
My first time listening to the album I played it on my record player and was expecting slow tunes, maybe even a kindly strummed guitar. The first song “Favourite Sweater” is just about the complete opposite of what I was expecting. The album is extremely electronic, It’s You was released in 2012 but I was sure it was released in the early 80’s.
The songs are all very multi-layered, each of them featuring a lot of different sounds and beats that all seem to mesh together. When first listening to the album, it was hard for me to distinguish when one song ended, and another started because they all have similar beats and sounds.
Sounding a lot like Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, the album seems like it was released in the wrong time period. Being a fan of modern electronic and ’80s inspired music, I’m glad it was released only a few years ago.
I expected Holy Balm to be a one-man-band, as the lead singer sounds very androgynous, similar to Borns. When I looked up the band on Instagram, I was surprised to find the band is actually a trio, Emma Ramsay, Jonathan Hochman and Anna John. I wasn’t surprised to find the band is Australian based — the music they make isn’t something very popular in America at the moment.
Overall, I loved the experience this gave me. I was able to make a day out of it with one of my best friends, go to one of my favorite stores and do something I hadn’t done before. Picking the album based only on visuals was surprising, I expected something completely different from the actual end result.
The band was interesting and electronic in a way I had never heard before, a slow and steady electro-band instead of the upbeat electronic music we hear in 2018.
I could definitely imagine myself listening to Holy Balm in the future – I’m excited to see what the rest of their music is like.
If you obsess over singers and bands, and are one of those people who make a playlist for every occasion, join CMN’s Music Journalism Course and get real-time experience, intense feedback on your writing, exposure to music industry insiders, and a great place to display build your portfolio. Get all the details on the Music Journalism Course here.