Cinéma d’auteur is a film theory used to describe a piece of art reflective of the personality of its creator, expressed through a singular style that’s instantly identifiable (think Sophia Coppola, David Lynch or Spike Lee). Strange Boy’s Holy / Unholy works in the same vein, a musique d’auteur so profoundly informed and shaped by its author that the two are inextricable.
A true melting pot of genres, trad, rap and choral music all form Holy / Unholy. The opening track, ‘Beginnings’ featuring Moya Brennan, finds Strange Boy contrasting the elegant vocal backdrop with a frantic performance of unrestrained raw lyricism. This outward expression feels essential to the record. Hard-hitting lines like “Where should I start telling tales from this heavy heart? 2nd of November 1998 or the second time my mother tried to end it. Cus the pain wouldn’t subside. See, I’ve been born 2 times.” are delivered with the same intensity that inspired them.
The raw individuality that runs throughout Holy / Unholy is thematically strong too. The storyteller aesthetic of trad and rap meld well with the sense of perspective given in Strang Boy’s songwriting. Songs like the jangled tension of ‘Waiting’, angular dynamics of ‘Hahaha’ featuring Hazey Haze, and rumbling album closer ‘Prayers’ are all different dimensions of the same singular need to express. Meaning that the authenticity of bars like, “loud and proud I’m shouting out. Fuck anybody than me. Just me and myself bad company. So, it’s fuck life till death comes for me. Gonna cut ties lest you got love for me” carrying an added weight to them.
‘Sorrow’ is the most affecting meeting place of performance and meaning. Capturing the unflinching self-honesty found throughout Holy / Unholy, the heart-wrenching powerfulness juxtaposed by fragility that is truly striking. Over sparse, ragged music, words like “cry cus the earth beneath my feet feels hollow. Cry with the wind when it wails on the Morrow. Cry just to cry then cry tears of sorrow.” fall with unrelenting ferocity.
And so it goes, Holy / Unholy is an album that only could be made by Strange Boy. A musique d’auteur, the words, the art and the music, are all wrapped up and informed by the creator’s experience. It’s not enough to simply borrow from existing genres or styles. Artists must impose themselves into the process. And on Holy / Unholy, there can be no doubting Strange Boy is in every second of this album.