In all the promotional materials swirling around the release of multi-instrumentalist and composer Holland Phillips’ eighth album A Presence of Three Minds, there is no mention of what the title means exactly, or the story behind it. Perhaps that’s just as well, because that lets our imagination stir and perhaps create our own visual narratives as we immerse our ears and souls into these 11 tracks and the artist’s wildly adventurous synthesis of acoustic, synth and symphonic sounds that are delightfully all over the stylistic and sonic map.
Though he started recording in the 90s, Phillips’ eclecticism has been at the hart of his success particularly over the course of his last four award winning albums, starting with Daydream Alley in 2015. For those new to the multi-faceted experience, the fact that he’s won in categories ranging from Piano with Instrumentation Album of the Year, Contemporary Instrumental Album of the Year and Best Electronic Album of the Year speaks volumes about a vibe that transcends strict genre trappings.
He’s been called New Age, Contemporary Instrumental, Dream Pop and Electronic Ambient, and I am happy to add a few new interpretive tags to the repertoire: “Symphonic Neo-Classical,” “Eclectic Meditational Music” and even, because of the gently loping, easy grooving spirit of “Oceanside,” “Smooth Folky Jazz.” When one reviewer called A Presence of Three Minds “a movie score just waiting for a movie,” that’s the ultimate incentive to start visualizing just what that narrative would be.
Cribbing from his biography, maybe it’s the story of a multi-talented musician playing southern and classic rock and longing to break free from simple three chord forms and shouts of “Free Bird” at the end of the sets. His college analysis of the classical masters put the greats foremost on his mind during those Midwest and Canadian tours and he was always longing to break free. Just a thought.
One of the reasons Phillips’ music, and A Presence of Three Minds in particular, transcend just about any other electronic new age synth projects is that, as per his training, he creates it in the service of music therapy. Often employing alternate tunings, every piece is designed to resonate with the human body with the intention of healing. Most new age music created for this purpose is gentle, quiet, meditative and sparse. Phillips works wonders as he shows us that healing vibes can take on a multitude of exciting dimensions beyond the slow and relaxing acoustic sounds we might expect.
From the hypnotic opening trance ambience, sound effects and moody keyboard melody that introduces “From the Depths” to the fusion of symphonic grace and meditative synth that infuses “To the Heavens,” A Presence of Three Minds” is a masterwork full of artful textures and unique, often unexpected surprises.
Phillips follows the pop-flavored “Oceanside” with the wistful and haunting, string driven “The Order of Things” and the free-flowing piano with strings reflection “Last One Home.” He follows the plucky and exotic, sonically “out there” “Seeking Sanctuary” with “Alone in the Crowd,” a thoughtful, easily rhythmic piano and strings tune that’s part pop, part symphony, part meditation. Likewise, the classically inspired blend of rushing ambience and sacredly hypnotic synth melody on “In the Queen’s Court” leads to the dark-toned, ominous ambiences of “Aftermath” and deep, floating essences of “Arendell Rising.”
Whoever those Three Minds of the title are, their presence has inspired one of the most compelling and dynamic instrumental recordings of the year. It’s one that requires multiple listens to fully appreciate its intricate details and magical musical tapestries.