When Toronto’s Holy Fuck released its self-titled debut in 2005 and its 2007 follow-up LP, it almost seemed like it was cleverly trolling (and exploiting) the hot-shit, very bloated dance-punk scene of the time. Similar to their more math-y brethren in Battles, head honchos Brian Borcherdt and Graham Walsh orchestrated an artful sound of electronic-rock with Holy Fuck, one that bristles with celestial noise and is laid out to feature a gauntlet of side entrances to jogging grooves. But the product was danceable and just cohesive enough to warrant inclusion on bills with totally uncomplicated bands of that era like, say, The Faint—which in turn probably compelled entire audiences looking on to collectively furrow their brows and cock their heads in bewilderment.
Following 2010’s solid Latin, however, Holy Fuck flickered out. The band didn’t break up, really—it seemed to just not be around anymore, similar to the glitzy dance-punk bands with which it coexisted and, to an extent, ingratiated itself. The years passed like sands through the hourglass—Walsh recorded and produced albums by Metz, Alvvays, and the former Viet Cong, while Borcherdt saw to his other bands and projects. Six years later, out of nowhere, Holy Fuck is ceremoniously releasing another record. “This album is exactly what we couldn’t do then,” Borcherdt said in the press release about the new Congrats, which in one way can be interpreted as, “Man, we just needed a break.”
Congrats features the same lineup from Latin and does in fact still sound like Holy Fuck, albeit less frenetic and organic, and more sinister and plotting. Woven together with a sub-terrestrial buzz and stark kick-snare-kick-snare beat, “Tom Tom,” for example, constructs a foreboding atmosphere of warped vocals, slow-burn glitches, and lurking melodies, one where the air is murky and the stench of sinfulness is more than faint. And though that track is one of the album’s best, it’s not the rule. Ambient and chill, “Neon Dad” includes a jaunty bass line and indie-pop bent, with breathy vocal harmonies that would push out well into the open air of a nameless summer music festival.
Congrats is the welcome return of a foursome of dudes that are still plenty proficient at creating crooked, cock-eyed, almost-club jams (“Acidic”) and piling on swirling effects and rhythms to a critical mass without ever sounding like they’re losing control (“Sabbatics”). And if this is in fact an album that Holy Fuck doesn’t think it was capable of during its period of gestation in the 2000s, then it’s very nice to have it. But it does raise the question about whether its overall impact will reverberate enough to pull Holy Fuck back toward relevance (or if that was ever the band’s intent in the first place).