The bio that accompanies the release of Sally Dige’s Holding On proudly proclaims that despite being made with one synth, each song on the record has more than 100 tracks of audio, and in some cases that many just for the drums. That claim might give you the impression that the LP is focused on sound design and complex production, and indeed, the record is obviously the product of extensive layering and assembly. But for all its multiplicity, it’s the immediacy and knack for melody that sells the Danish-Canadian’s music.
Despite their synthetic nature, the record’s compositions feel very rock-like in their execution. Leading with clarion synth riffs, the rhythm programming almost universally has the feel of post-punk, which serves as a strong foundation for Dige’s singing. Songs like the propulsive title track and the pensive “I Can’t Be” especially benefit from that naturalistic treatment, their plucky basslines and rolling toms lending a warmth and groove that contrasts with the big reverbs and icy synths they share space with. In some cases like “Be Gone” twangy pathches are lathered with delay that emulates guitar, adding to the trad darkwave feel of the proceedings.
Dige’s sensibility comes across in her vocal delivery, which favours precision and control. Each syllable, each run of notes is performed with a constancy that rivals the exactitude of her programming, occasionally to the point where she sounds stiff. Still, though it’s hard to argue with her approach on a song like “Emptiness” where her decision to stick to a lower register lends her a regal bearing, and the song a great deal of gravitas. Dige is especially good at finding ways to reinforce the central melody of a cut with her voice, frequently harmonizing or trading off with an instrument in the mix, or straight up acting as one, like on “No Need to Pretend” where the word “why” is repeated with the fidelity of a quantized synth.
You can deconstruct how Holding On is put together all day – the record has layers to peel back from a production standpoint – but that won’t ever really capture its appeal. Without ever going for big brassy hooks, Sally Dige keeps melody at the forefront, never letting the density of her arrangements overwhelm matters. For a record so meticulous, it’s remarkably easy to listen to and enjoy, maintaining an airy and ethereal tone in spite of it’s considerable weight.