Music: David Holmes ****
The Holy Pictures (Mercury)
David Holmes has enjoyed a fascinating odyssey. The boy Holmer has gone all the way from a pub DJ in his native Belfast, to Hollywood soundtrack specialist extraordinaire. His latest incarnation goes one better -- David Holmes sings! It's massive a relief to report that his voice is pretty bloody good.
The Holy Pictures sounds absolutely nothing like his previous solo albums, This Film's Crap Let's Slash The Seats, Let's Get Killed Or Bow Down To The Exit Sign.
If anything, its fuzzy guitar work outs, poppy arrangements and breathy vocals are reminiscent of late Jesus & Mary Chain and Death in Vegas. But Holmes still manages to throw a odd curveball in there, such as the ambient closing tracks, Birth, and the heartbreakingly beautiful piece for his late parents, The Ballad Of Sarah And Jack. Such emotion is exactly what defines The Holy Pictures as a remarkable album, especially for a so-called "superstar DJ". It's dripping with evocative and haunting music and lyrics directly inspired by David's Belfast upbringing.
The man himself puts it best, "I've always wanted to make a record about my life in Belfast and all the things attached to that -- family, friends, loss, love and starting a family of my own. All the stuff that shapes the person you become.
"I think it's fair to say I sang on my record, not because I wanted to, but because I had to."
Holmes has plenty of stories to tell, as he is the youngest of 10 children born on Valentine's Day in 1969. I Heard Wonders is one of the best opening tracks of any album this year, rumbling along like a happy, wide-eyed Joy Division who've just realised that life is pretty damn good after all. It's heart-stirring to hear him dreamily sing about the wonders of falling in love.
Occasionally the instrumental tracks meander slightly and perhaps The Holy Pictures would have benefited with a bit more ruthless editing. But it has to be said that this is easily David Holmes' most moving album to date and quite possibly his best.
Burn it: I Heard Wonders, Holy Pictures, The Ballad Of Sarah And Jack
A few years ago, Oakenfold tried to follow David Holmes into the lucrative Hollywood soundtrack game, but deejaying and producing have remained his mainstays. Oakenfold Anthems is a whopping three CD mix set of his compositions and remixes over the years.
It serves as a timely reminder that even though Oakenfold isn't a credible figure in the eyes of many dance anoraks, he's been an extremely prolific author of some sublime dance floor moments, notably Grace's perennial floor-filler, Not Over Yet.
Sure, there is plenty of Eurodance cheese on offer and Oakenfold's mixing frequently travels the predictable route rather than the most interesting. Still, it can't be denied that the man is a master of his craft when it comes to floor-friendly productions.
Oakenfold Anthems doesn't hold a candle to this year's classic Carl Craig compilation, but it's a fun trip down memory lane all the same.
Burn it: Not Over Yet
You never know what Damon Albarn will get up to next. Life after Blur has been a bewildering and brilliant rollercoaster; curating Africa Express, recording an album in Mali, forming a cartoon band and moonlighting last year as the Good, the Bad & the Queen.
Monkey: Journey To The West is the soundtrack to an opera sung in Mandarin that Albarn and Gorillaz co-creator Jamie Hewlett were commissioned for the Manchester International Festival. It has since gone on to run in Covent Garden and is by all accounts a mind-boggling show.
As an album, Monkey: Journey To The West doesn't quite work when shorn of its elaborate stage context. However, it does have its highs, such as the thrilling starburst melody of Heavenly Peach Banquet and the downright bonkers Confessions Of A Pig.
Sadly, Monkey is not a patch on Gorillaz's Demon Days or last year's terrific The Good, The Bad & The Queen album, but whatever Albarn does is always worth investigating.
Burn it: Heavenly Peach Banquet
If you've seen The Dark Knight, you'll know exactly how blood curdling the instrumental piece which accompanies the Joker's scary scenes is. Hans Zimmer and James Newton Howard also scored Batman Begins and they got the gig for The Dark Knight on the insistence of Christopher Nolan, who believes they are far more innovative than most people in Hollywood realise.
Far too often, non-song based soundtracks can be dull companion pieces to a great movie. Thankfully, The Dark Knight is a great movie with a great soundtrack. Seeing as Heath Ledger's Joker is the dark heart and soul of the movie, the demented villain dominates Zimmer and Howard's orchestral score. Why So Serious?, Aggressive Expansion, Agent Of Chaos, Introduce a Little Anarchy and Watch The World Burn are sinister, brooding epics.
Usually, you'd expect a product like this to be a stop-gap for fans until the DVD comes out, but The Dark Knight OST impressively stands on its own two feet as an enthralling album.
Burn it: Why So Serious?
Warp Records are one of the best labels on the planet. As well as bringing the music of Aphex Twin to the attention of the world at large, the illustrious imprint founded by Steve Beckett and the late Rob Mitchell also unearthed the genius of Battles.
Their latest signings are an Australian instrumental three piece that fuse post-rock with electronica to forge some fine results. The title track perfectly sums up their strengths; moodily magnificent music that sounds like Brian Eno fronting Tortoise.
Sadly, unlike other more interesting instrumentalists such as Mogwai, Battles and the aforementioned Tortoise, Pivot get a little bit too noodly and nerdy for my liking. O Soundtrack My Heart is musically solid, but lacks that final spark to render these pieces as memorable. Still, a promising new group worth keeping tabs on. n
Burn it: O Soundtrack My Heart