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Holy Fuck's Unbroken Social Scene

A new record, a new approach and a new focus

By Vish Khanna


Despot
A well dressed man: Despot has a thing for classic Ralph Lauren
Side projects in music have a way of taking on a life off their own. Like an illicit affair, they can start as an innocent flirtation and quickly grow out of control. One of Canada’s most interesting electronic-based instrumental bands, Holy Fuck have written a cohesive new album that marks a true evolution for the band’s founders. The exhilaration of Holy Fuck’s self-titled, 2005 debut is still present on LP but there’s a measured focus guiding the band’s energetic zeal that makes for a much more dynamic record. “On the first album, we weren’t even a band yet,” founder Brian Borcherdt explains. “We got together with a short list of friends we thought it’d be fun to collaborate with and it’s an amalgam of the first two recording sessions with two different line-ups. It was live, nothing was rehearsed, and we used a drum machine we found under a dirty pile in the back room of the studio. It was all off-the-cuff and there weren’t any real songs.”

“The second time around, we made a real record with songs that we’d worked out with something of a long-term line-up,” he continues. “We utilized that chemistry and drew from some of the motifs that we’d been doing live. So, while it was cut in more or less the same fashion-live-off-the-floor-it was our attempt to actually play some songs.” LP reflects Holy Fuck as a rather succinct songwriting unit, which may surprise anyone who’s seen them live. On stage, Holy Fuck’s songs take new forms each night, unbound by restrictions. The new record finds the band packing a lot more energy and intensity into shorter bursts of time. “It’s funny because, live, these songs are even more succinct,” Borcherdt says. “When you’re in the studio, you feel less pressure to wrap everything up in a cute little bow. You’re having fun with lots of sonic textures to explore and you’re not worried about going over your set-time or losing the audience. Ultimately there is an audience on the other end of those headphones so you have the So, while it was cut in more or less the same fashion-live-off-the-floor-it was our attempt to actually play some songs same worries and I think our next record will be even more concise. The more we do it, the more we feel like ‘Okay, let’s say what we need to say within three minutes.’ If you can’t make your argument in three minutes, it’s not a very good argument.”

It’s interesting to hear Borcherdt discussing refining Holy Fuck’s sound because the band’s frenetic, ‘anything goes’ aesthetic was almost accidental. Best known for his solo moniker The Remains of Brian Borcherdt and his membership in By Divine Right, Borcherdt started Holy Fuck as an experimental, electronic side project with no intention of playing the music beyond his four-track player. With encouragement from BDR mates and other collaborators, Holy Fuck soon became a tangible thing, something that Borcherdt found artistically challenging and viable. Along with principal partner Graham Walsh, Borcherdt has worked with a long list of musicians in Holy Fuck, both live and in the studio. The current line-up consists of Borcherdt, Walsh, bassist Matt McQuade, and drummer Brad Kilpatrick, yet this gathering only recorded two songs on LP, while Wintersleep’s Mike Bigelow and Loel Campbell were the rhythm section on the rest of the album.

“By now, we’ve resigned ourselves to the notion that we’ll never have a permanent line-up, even if we’d like to,” Borcherdt chuckles. “It’s gonna end up being this chaotic, rotating thing and in the end, that’s kinda exciting.”

Indeed, Borcherdt’s little black book (or little Blackberry) must be full of interesting phone numbers. Borcherdt became a key figure in a Nova Scotia music collective that spawned the Dependent Records label. Over the past three years, artists like Wintersleep, Land of Talk, Jill Barber, and Holy Fuck have seen their That's bullshit for us to do because we should be writing songs, out on the road having fun profiles rise along with Dependent’s but the label has seemingly ceased operations while most of its active roster has pursued more established music business avenues.

“It’s one of those things where you have to ask yourself, ‘Why am I breaking my neck at this,” Borcherdt asks rhetorically. “The bands got big enough but we had to figure out if we wanted to be a real label with a tax number and an accountant. That’s bullshit for us to do because we should be writing songs, out on the road having fun. I don’t want to be Arts & Crafts-fuck that! I respect those labels but I don’t wanna be one. I want people to enjoy Land of Talk because I have but I don’t want a piece of their pie.”

With Dependent on indefinite hold, Borcherdt is free to devote all of is energy to Holy Fuck and he’s grateful for the shot. “I’m so lucky and we’re so excited; I’m glad this is the band that people are interested in right now,” he says. “I feel like I could always be content writing songs at the foot of my bed. In a way that’s very personal and Holy Fuck isn’t as personal and more social. It’s like, ‘Let’s have fun together.’ It’s more communicative.”

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