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  • Jonathan Widran

HOLLAND PHILLIPS, A Sense of Distance

With the release of his lush, hypnotic and decidedly whimsical, romantic and optimistic new album A Sense of Distance, Holland Phillips continues on the prolific, decade long, multiple award-winning roll he’s been on since resuming his recording career in the 2010s.


The multi-talented keyboardist/composer – who launched his career with two promising releases in the mid-90s - explains his ongoing adventurous creative output as one of absolute creative necessity. “I don’t really have that much of a choice in the matter. When I swear off music, I can still hear it in my head. If I leave it alone long enough, it turns into noise because one melody and chord sequence starts playing over another and then another until, after a time, it sounds like an orchestra tuning up before a concert. The only way to get rid of all the noise is to start recording – because once I do, that melody and those chords stop playing and I can move onto another.”


Fans of super melodic, uniquely inventive, artfully orchestrated new age keyboard music are grateful every time that muse inhabits Phillips, and he often treats them to albums with unique titles that speak to the theme of or inspiration behind the project. A Momentary Pause (2020) reflected his mood during the pandemic. Eleven After Midnight (2021) was an eclectic celebration of the magic he creates between midnight and dawn while most of us are sleeping.


Standing in Motion (2021) turns the thematic tables on the listener, inviting them to connect their own lives to Phillips’ musical journey, experienced in both reflective mode (stillness) and as a soundtrack to busy lives (motion). He takes the process of choosing his titles very seriously, as an ongoing process narrowed down from a dozen possibilities, homing in on the perfect one as the music develops and the production takes shape.


There’s a certain sense of irony in Phillips choice to convey the essence of his latest album with the phrase A Sense of Distance, which transports us along a path from the gorgeous meditative piano melody and sweeping orchestral splendor of “Perseus Rising” through the dramatic, film score lush swells and vibrant, emphatic piano passages. The peak creative process for the project was in the latter part of 2023 around the same time the Blue Moon of August and the Perseids meteors were on full display. At one point, Phillips literally walked out onto his front stoop, took one look up at the sky and ran in to retrieve his camera. The picture he took became the album cover!



“Choosing the title A Sense of Distance became more and more obvious as the building process developed,” he says. “From the front cover picture to the song titles to the overall feel, it was all about distance – how far the music had progressed, the distance of the moon, the Perseids meteors showing up, the distance in a journey – and I think when you listen to it – especially through a good set of earbuds or headphones, the music pushes you to think about the distance you’ve come.” 


This is a perfectly logical assessment, but the magnificence of Phillips’ compositions and arrangements – complemented by his co-production with Ronnie Campbell – ensures that the hearts of listeners will only draw closer and more intimately to his artistry. So as the narrative of the songs progress, there is an otherworldly sense of both distance (as in accomplishment and achievement) and intimacy (as he draws listeners into his intricate creative process).


His song titles achieve the same exciting duality, starting with the aforementioned glance at the soaring Perseids meteors (“Perseus Rising”), taking an immersive, mystical, ambient and ultimately percussive epic journey “Through the Rabbit Hole” (a song written after the album was just about complete) and along the way discovering a colorful mix of wistful, nostalgic longing (the sparse, reflective piano driven ballad “Bittersweet”) and more charming, lighthearted “Enchantments.”


Phillips also draws our hearts “Behind the Veil” with a mysterious, moody feeling of soul seduction, draws our eyes and ears ever skyward on the lilting, super charming piano-orchestra piece “Flying Solo” and ever so cautiously, via swirling synth strings makes sure we know that “Hope Remains” no matter how distant we ever feel from our dreams. Another gem is the spirited, “On Whistler’s Ridge,” a fusion of free-flowing piano, rich percussion textures and somewhat eerie sonic elements.  


One of the key elements setting A Sense of Distance apart from Phillips’ universally excellent previous releases is his choice of having three-time Grammy winning artist/producer Ricky Kej master the album. He says, “A gifted keyboard player in his own right, he not only understood what I was trying to accomplish with harmonics, relationships between instruments and the width of the music, he was able to accentuate all that in the mastering process. It was a key piece of the album that made it what it is, and I can’t thank him enough for his contribution.”


Speaking of A Sense of Distance as a whole, Phillips adds, “I would like to tell you that this album adds to my legacy, that it’s perhaps the most thoughtful I’ve ever created, but I really think that is best left for others to decide what that legacy might be, and how this album might add to that.  I just write the music and strive to make it the kind of music that people enjoy listening to, and perhaps give them the opportunity to dream along with it.”


The ten tracks comprise a beautiful, constantly fascinating dream you won’t soon want to wake from!

 

   


 

 

  

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