Every Tuesday, Torontoist scours record store shelves in search of the city’s most notable new releases and brings you the best—or sometimes just the biggest—of what we’ve heard in Sound Advice.
It was only a year ago that Brian Borcherdt released his critically acclaimed solo album Coyotes, so even while his day job in Holy Fuck has kept him busy on the road and in car commercials, he wasted no time putting out Torches (and the Ward Colorado Demos). Released as a free download through Borcherdt’s own Hand Drawn Dracula label, Torches goes through a noticeable growth spurt, but is still every bit as stark and stirring as previous solo work from the deep end of one of Canada’s leading electronic artists.
The Torches portion was recorded in Toronto and the peaceful-but-bleak seaside of Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, and the accompanying demo collection, Ward Colorado Demos, in the United States’ Boulder County–area mountains. After almost losing four years’ worth of recordings to a Chicago taxi company’s lost and found bin in early 2009, the relief of having them returned was impetus enough to—lucky for us—release them after all. All seventeen songs span Borcherdt’s Holy Fuck downtime from 2004 to 2006, and though many of them represent unfinished album-starts and otherwise-forgotten stashaway recordings, the two halves are cohesive, complementary, and absolutely crushing. Even those not easily preyed upon could crumble under Borcherdt’s quiet honesty, the uncomfortable, strained sounds he coaxes from a guitar (“Follows”) or his resigned melodies that always echo and sting. “Preserver” recalls the sprightly weirdscape of Chad VanGaalen, while “Furnaces” channels the floor-low devastation of early Hayden, so it’s no surprise that Borcherdt himself has been the subject of the same Neil Young comparisons that have followed those artists. When the drums kick in and the guitars take over on album opener “Crime Scenes” or the cleaned-up shoegaze of “Torches” (streaming above), it’s close to an indie rock uprising, but with the inherent moody intensity, the same buried, resolute confidence. Some subtle horns drone in, too, but even then, Borcherdt’s simple pop craftery is refreshingly far from the twee orchestral leanings of much of his local indie brethren.
Ripped unapologetically from the Torches press release is a sentiment that echoes so perfectly and poetically the reason for not only this work’s release, and not only its creation, but for its resonance: You can only hold onto something for so long. Time and the occasional misstep have a way of making things disappear. Temptingly risky for the especially fragile (who doesn’t love to wallow?), Torches is the perfect company for the looming grip of winter reflection. A late, dark musical highlight for 2009.