The band’s career has spanned 15 years and five albums, but the lyrics on the first track of Holy Fuck’s new album, ‘Deleter’, propose a bold change in direction. Recorded on New Year’s Eve at Jack White’s Third Man Studio in Nashville, the song celebrates the catharsis that comes with starting anew – especially on the eve of a new year. “I want to scrap all of this / And start over again,” guest vocalist Alexis Taylor of Hot Chip sings on one of the most hopeful and assertive opening tracks to greet a Holy Fuck album in years.
It’s not accident that one of the most recognisable voices in indie-dance has been enlisted here (among other members of indie royalty). Following advice from mentor and long-term collaborator Kieran Hebden – aka Four Tet – the song’s original vocals were scrapped and replaced with Taylor’s, whose voice is well-suited to the group’s surprising shift in direction. Ever the experimental chameleons, ‘Deleter’ sees Holy Fuck taking a welcome detour from drone-drenched electronica into the euphoric ’90s dance music of their adolescence. “Good things come from experimentation,” Brian Borcherdt recently said of the Canadian quartet’s latest – and from the evidence here, it’s hard to disagree.
While venturing into a new world, the group are employing more familiar methods of working. After the uncharacteristic formality of their last album (their first written entirely in the studio), the group are back to thriving in creative chaos. They famously never rehearse before shows and often composing entire songs from scratch in front of audiences, and most of the tracks on ‘Deleter’ began life as extended stage-show improvisations.
For an album that leans towards the bliss of ’90s dance, this approach does perhaps make sense. As keyboard player Graham Walsh has explained: “There’s a moment when we’re all playing [live] and it’s like levitation. That’s when you know something is really happening. That’s euphoria.” This is perhaps most evident on uplifting album standout ‘Free Gloss’, where frenetic, glitchy beats contrast against the gorgeously airy vocals of Pond’s Nick Allbrook. The result is a trippy, psychedelic tapestry of euphoric escapism that wouldn’t have felt out of place on Factory’s Hacienda dancefloor.
‘Deleters’ – featuring Liars’ Angus Andrew – is made in a similarly spontaneous vein, albeit via scratchier electronica and some funkier bass courtesy of Matt ‘Punchy’ McQuaid. Fittingly for a band whose MySpace page once described their approach to making music as “find something in the trash…plug it in,” unusual vintage sounds abound as they revive manifold junk yard instruments anew. Perhaps the most striking is the use of a 1940’s Voice O Graph recording booth on ‘Luxe’, as Holy Fuck filter Alex Taylor’s vocals into a dream-like daze.
Elsewhere, ‘Ruby’ is an intricately structured synth-pop stomp that effectively marries the group’s past and present. Blending their love of driving beats and experimental electronics with the seedier side of ’90s dance, these darker songs contrast well with the album’s headier moments of euphoria; it’s all the more cathartic when release arrives. ‘San Sebastian’ is an oblique dance-electronic-metal hybrid made in the vein of ’90s East Berlin dance, and Matt Schulz’s pummelling drums sounding fiercer than ever. Never an outfit to shy away from combining styles that shouldn’t work but somehow do, their sonic experiments impress.
Holy Fuck’s live performances are often received better than their albums and ‘Deleter’ feels like an attempt to capture the thrill of their off-the-cuff performances. The most interesting moments on ‘Deleter’ arrive when the band embrace ’90s dance in all its euphoric, Technicolor glory. There is still plenty here for fans of the band’s more melancholic, anxiety-ridden electronica, but there’s some much-needed escapism to be derived from getting lost in Holy Fuck’s tripper soundscapes.
Release date: January 17
Record label: Last Gang Records