Sunday, July 25, 2010

Album Review: Holy Fuck - Latin

Holy Fuck
Latin starts off so quietly I had to check my CD player to make sure it was still working. However, the eerie buildup of  opener "1MD" is just a precursor to an album full of the ecstatic noise-pop that Holy Fuck have become known for - only Latin is a much more cohesive album than their previous two full-length releases.

Holy Fuck is not a band made for recorded listening. Their live performances are marvels - something you need to see to fall in love with - but their recorded music has always been lacking the gravity and ferocity that their live performances generate so naturally. There are strong individual pieces, but never a full album that's worked as a whole. This has changed with Latin. It's hard to unify a record has little to no lyrics, and works with "instruments" like a 35 mm film synchronizer and toy guns, but founders Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh seem to have struck a balance with Latin between their finely structured and more contemplative pieces, and their clamorous industrial rock anthems.

It may be the addition of full-time drummer Matt Schulz and bassist Matt McQuaid that give the album a more unified feel. The drum and bass are the backbone of Holy Fuck's music, and as great as the experimental melodies that float on top of them are, they need that backbone to be strong for the rest of the composition to be able to stand up.

After the eerie lead-in of "1MD," It's the funky bass lines  of "Red Lights" that really opens up the album. The song has a very natural forward motion, and some well-timed sound breaks just before the coda.

"Red Lights" and its follower, "Latin America," are examples of Holy Fuck's more controlled, slower building pieces. These tracks don't so much explode (like some of the group's more well-loved tracks) as they do unfold to create sonic landscapes. I especially like when "Latin America" opens up in the middle to a sparse synth and keyboard section, which then builds back up with other sounds. The imagery it conjures is like breaking through a group of clouds into a brilliant sunlit scene.

This is something Latin does really well - it allows for space in each of the tracks. The music has time to breathe and transform naturally. Tracks like "Lucky and "Red Lights" are examples of a good use of space in Latin, while "Stay Lit" is something of pallet cleanser - sort of bland, but it sets you up for more the more exciting "Silva & Grimes."

"Silva & Grimes" is Holy Fuck on form. The buildup is just as fun as the release, with a head-bobbing synth motif that permeates the whole track, acting as a sort of release valve for all of the built-up tension provided by the chopped up guitar sampling and distortion. The drum beat speeds up with the synth, and things climax wonderfully with a satisfying smashup of sounds.

Just like Christopher Walken, "SHT MTN" is all about the cowbell. And just in case you weren't sure of the name of the band, the sampled voice that repeats throughout the track will spell it out for you. It's a little reminiscent of '80s television theme songs to me (I'm hearing the theme for Knight Rider in the back of my head). And Borcherdt distorted vocals are used to good effect here.

The latter half is easily the more heart pounding, fast-paced section of the album. "Stilettos" features a break-neck drum and bass line, with a frenetic synth melody and vocals careening in and out of focus. Latin's last track, "P.I.G.S.", is crunchy yet atmospheric track. The beats and floating synth lines collaborate for a slow, ominous build in the middle that leads to a satisfying release (I'm imagining a sort of 1960s sci-fi industrial landscape when I hear this track).

Latin is an aesthetically pleasing album that delivers in both depth and raw power. It's something that I hope Holy Fuck can build upon as a template for future full-length releases, so long as they don't go too far with a set structure and lose the improvisational feel of their live performances. That would be a fucking shame.

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