Holy Fuck have been mistaken for cerebral hipsters when they’re really just jam band dudes. They’ve been knocked for having an ostentatious name and somewhat opaque songs and long track lengths. Beyond winning them a new slew of carefully coiffed critics and not a few pot heads, their new album should also prove to indie blog haters that their spontaneous brand of performance and creation has continued to blossom into an organic, ongoing krautfunk Gesamtkunstwerk.
East coast Canadians transplanted to Toronto is sort of like moving from Maine to New York City. Or so I am told by my pale-skinned friends from the North. These particular Canucks look fondly back on their days of yore, when Friday night meant “drinking beer and playing music at the practice space.” Toronto was a shock to their good-time vibes, a place where “people seem to be really enthusiastic about projects but never actually do them.” Sound familiar, embittered Williamsburgher? Perhaps you can learn a thing or two from the Holy Fuck ethos.
“It started as a sort of mess of electronic noise; we never really thought of it as having a ‘rhythm section’ but that’s how it evolved,” says band frontman Graham Walsh, signaling to Brad Kilpatrick [drummer] and Matt McQuaid [bassist], sunk deep into the Beggars Group couches, two aces of said ‘section’ who never quite test their vocal chords during this Sentimentalist session.
Their initial formula was spun together years ago, and having since tightened their sound to the point of accessibility, their experimentation has become a near-science, their live sets increasingly calculable and containable. Far from being dull, it’s just a lot more danceable. “We want to be good, we don’t want to disappoint people,” co-frontman Brian Borcherdt explains somewhat sheepishly.
The most recent result of this progression, this year’s eponymous release on XL, features a scattered string of tracks recorded in various environments including radio appearances, studios and live shows that nonetheless come across as familiar and unified, not surprisingly, since they were all developed within a similarly organic process. Concepts were allowed freedom in practice and during performance and slowly developed to follow within regular structures or motifs. It’s an ongoing process, and the album captures it at a specific point in its gestation. It’ll keep changing.
Holy Fuck will keep working too. At the time when we spoke, they were working an unofficial remix of M.I.A. (which could go official, considering that they’re label mates). And they’re constantly edgy to develop more material. Walsh says, “we’re pretty busy, but a lot of the time when we’re touring it’s just driving, and we can’t really get much done at all, there are huge swathes of time when we’re completely unproductive.” It was an innocuous comment for me until I was unable to conjure up another person who I’d discovered sharing the same urgency.
If the anxiety to get shit done seems a surprising trait for self-defined “lo-fi” jam band, don’t forget that these guys erect their fuzzed-out synth labyrinths out of guitar pedals. These aren’t processed beats you spend a night stacking up in your bedroom, they’re fresh and organic, grown every night, and to pull that off takes a great deal of devotion to experimentation, and to a bunch of crappy keyboards and effects boxes. Walsh smiles coyly, saying, “After some concert, you’ll lift up one of my delay pedals and there’ll be an iPod mini cued up. Then the joke will be up.”