In any other year, a review of A Momentary Pause, the latest transcendent album by Holland Phillips, would focus on his early projects in the 90s and how incredibly prolific the multi-talented composer, pianist and keyboardist has been since launching the second phase of his career in the genre in 2014 with Redemption.
Since then, he’s released projects at a torrid pace, earning airplay on New Age stations, sleep radio, airline in-flight programs and even TV and film. He’s also racked up an impressive stream of accolades reflecting his range of styles, including nominations and wins for Contemporary Instrumental Album of the Year (three times), Piano with Instrumentation Album of the Year (2018), Song of the Year (2016-17), Best Electronic Album of the Year (2015) and Album of the Year (2014, 2020).
Phillips’ history is expansive and inspiring, yet in this strange alt-reality of 2020, when we’re collectively dealing with radical lifestyle shifts, fear and anxiety about the future on an unprecedently level, what truly matters is that Phillips is using his music to meet this unique moment in extraordinary ways. Although his melodic and sweeping blend of piano, synth atmospheres, uplifting guitar and flute textures and seductive, easy flowing rhythms seems designed to help us meditate and find peace in the midst of our trials, the title A Momentary Pause really gets to the heart of the matter. For better or worse, the normal flow of our lives is on pause, but the time away from the usual hustle and bustle can also be a time to rethink, refocus and re-center our life and spiritual intentions as we embrace the future.
“I think this album is two things,” Phillips says. “It’s a natural progression technically from my previous albums and also a little deeper than those because of the times we are all in. There was no way to avoid seeing it everywhere, from the lack of people out and about to the lack of planes in the sky, to the fear on the faces of those I spoke with. Since it was all-enveloping, it naturally came out in the music I was creating – and I was creating a lot of it because there was so little else to do.”
While most of Phillips’ recordings follow a certain narrative because the music reflects aspects of his life during the period of recording, A Momentary Pause is a bit different. He had a good portion of the songs completed before the pandemic hit – and when the shutdown happened, he wrote another full album of material driven by the emotions of the time. Ultimately, he used a few songs from before and the majority from the early days of the shutdown. The overall effect finds him succeeding spectacularly in achieving his goal to create an album “you could listen to alone, and one that reflected the wide range of emotions that were floating around during that period, like snapshots of the times we’re in.”
The “alone” aspect he mentions is intriguing, because pieces like the mystical and gently atmospheric opener “Upon Awakening” and the lyrical, piano and atmosphere driven ‘Whispers” truly seem designed (if you put them on repeat, as you should) for periods of thoughtful contemplation and meditation. Phillips often uses titles as subtle suggestions to help guide us – as on the free-flowing, easy rolling reminder to recall “Our Sweeter Days”; a moment of whimsical imagination embracing “Stepping Stones” out of the darkness with a spirited violin-synth atmosphere dance; and the eloquent and purposeful guitar-piano blend encouraging us to start “Dreaming on Ice.”
Other titles mirror exactly what Phillips is doing musically – most specifically “Study of Patterns,” which launches from a hypnotic piano motif before aiming skyward, and creating a sweet and soothing symphonic closing lullaby with “Bedtime Prayers.” One might think the title track “A Momentary Pause” would be a staid, quiet affair, but he makes it a lighthearted, movement filled track full of great hope and optimism – and some of his most engaging piano work on the album.
“I think this music helps people feel better, daydream more, and supports them and supports them in remembering things they may have forgotten,” Phillips says. “And with the pandemic, I think we could all spend some time feeling better and thinking about better days. I’ve always believed that music is a universal language, one that can help us feel better about ourselves. I’ve also always believed that music can also help create positive thoughts, good feelings and happy daydreams if crafted specifically for that purpose – which is usually on my mind all the way through the creative process. I hope that the music here brings a good memory to someone’s mind and a little smile when there’s no other reason to have one.”