When DORJA founding member, guitarist Holly Henderson announced her departure from the all-girl rock quintet earlier this year, one of the reasons she gave was that she was ‘still searching for her musical identity’. There always was more to her than meets the eye (or the ear); even while playing rhythm guitar in a touring covers band she had been writing her own music and putting up demos. The material she wrote herself was often very different from what she was doing in a band situation; she’d co-written three songs in a punky style for a previous band before contributing to the writing of all the material issued to date from DORJA (including that band’s imminent release ‘Far Gone’). Her own stuff however was drastically different; ranging from laidback, late-night listening to more rocking, but alternatively-styled music she has proven to be an artist willing to switch styles and genres, keeping her followers on their toes.
This EP (released in August 2017) is about as far removed as is possible to get from DORJA, it is a full-on dive into experimental, ambient electronic music. As such it was one I had to listen to on numerous occasions to even begin to get it, since I will cheerfully admit to being an unreconstructed, dyed-in-the-denim hard rocker totally set in my headbanging ways. That said, based on what I already know of Holly’s work I believe in her talent unconditionally, so whatever form her music takes I am willing to investigate. (I do not say that for many artists!)
‘Desert Wax’ is a concept EP, the storyline of which she has gone into in more detail about on her own site but is essentially about a group of people so disillusioned with society that they break away in search of their own space. The title track sets the tone, with layered, echoed vocals over an ambient backing track. Her vocal is drenched in effects, so that it becomes another colour on the palette. ‘Not’, the third track does appear to feature a guitar but don’t expect hard rock here – the idea is for this music to take you on a journey, and I found it best listened to as a whole, in one sitting, with headphones to get its full impact. If you’ve got an upmarket hi-fi and have the isolation in which to listen to this properly, you’re more likely to feel this music more deeply.
Standout track for me is ‘Safe Place’ in which Holly duets with herself using two different effects, (one deepened) on her voice to achieve a call-and-response type of song (“Take me to a safe place/I’ll take you to a safe place“).
Holly could probably come up with something distinctive even if you just gave her a paper and comb, but ‘Desert Wax’ shows her in a totally different light to what I’ve seen and heard of her before. If I’m completely honest I don’t think I’d let many other artists take me on the journey I found myself embarking on with this EP, it is so far outside my metallic comfort zone. Once over that mental hurdle however, I found this to be an engaging listen, with more than a hint of prog. She has that knack of drawing you in, just as she did with previous offering ‘Opium Drip’.
Holly Henderson has come a long way in a short time already, it’s almost impossible to believe that this is the same person who wrote three punk rock-styled tracks last year for an EP recorded by another band, but it’s true – she wrote that as well 😉
She has however demonstrated a depth and range to her talent that will take her so much further, and with the release of her first full album of original material still to come, I see only a bright future for this Maidstone miss.