When they arrived on the scene about a decade ago, a good deal of the appeal of Holy Fuck came in their brash outsiderdom — and how well they fit in despite that. They used piles of outdated electronics and non-instruments to create music that lurched from brash and burning to smooth and groovy. You’d rightly react to their music with their band name, both in the positive and negative. Best case scenario, you say it out of awe; worst case scenario, you say it out of exasperation. Though it took six years to come, their latest record, Congrats, will likely do a good deal of both.
A lot can happen in six years, and in the gap between Congrats and predecessor Latin, indie rockers Liars mutated to fill a surprisingly similar space to the one that Holy Fuck had occupied. It’s hard not to think of Liars’ Mess when listening to chunks of Congrats, though that’s certainly no fault of Holy Fuck’s — they were doing this blend of noise, electronics, . At both their heights, the tracks rumble and crunch, sounding as if you’re stuck in the middle of an over-active, post-apocalyptic pinball machine: disorienting, flashy, and cathartic.
Congrats opener “Chimes Broken” opens on bruised synth tones and polyrhythmic percussion, the track building to a point that everything pushes severely into the red, yet the vocals retain an eerie near-monotone. There’s a feral edge to the syncopated synths and slow-slung vocals of “Tom Tom” — the former crackling out of control at the end of a line, the other breaking into a woop.
Holy Fuck don’t need to play rough to succeed. The sublime “Xed Eyes” stutters and sways like a Talking Heads track punched up by a glitching robot. “Shivering”, on the other hand, hits a surprising chill, washes of Northern Lights electronics arcing over-top the bouncy 8-bit stuff, all as an evocative female vocal flutters through the mix.
However, the comparison to Liars also highlights how well that band instills drama even into their weaker moments. While few would argue that Mess’s groaning “Boyzone” or lilting “Can’t Hear Well” would be their favorite track on the album, those songs felt like they were building to something, tied into the rest of the album. Here, the marshmallow funk groove of “Neon Dad” is pleasant bit of fluff that doesn’t quite stick. Atmospheric interlude “Shimmering” builds with, of all things, an acoustic guitar, but ditching its interesting shift only 40 seconds in. “Sabbatics” ripples for three and a half minutes, never quite threatening to break, let alone actually break.
Though some of the album’s second half wanes into abstraction, the dramatic arc of Congrats both begins and ends with enough strength to keep it from floundering. The one-two punch of “Acidic” (a club cut punctuated by toy laser gun sounds and clattering percussion) and the sprawling, scrambling “Crapture” end things on a high note.
While Holy Fuck once felt like an absolute anomaly, it’s interesting to see that their brand of electronic music has become something of a trope. Even more interesting, though, is whether they’ll continue to push farther into dismantling that and forge into even newer territory. There are hints of it on Congrats, though that’s balanced by the feeling of too easily slipping into a familiar groove.
Essential Tracks: “Tom Tom”, “Shivering”, and “Xed Eyes”