Brian Borcherdt
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Brian Borcherdt

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The Quieter Side of Brian Borcherdt
[2 January 2007]
If you've seen Brian Borcherdt on stage this year, chances are it was as a member of the noise-freak supergroup Holy Fuck. But it's in the quieter-but-equally-intense songs of his solo project, the Remains of Brian Borcherdt, that the singer-songwriter's talents appear in full force.
by Sarah Elizabeth Feldman
It seems like there are two kinds of songs that really stick with you. There’s the kind a listener immediately recognizes as a “good song”—one whose success is a product of clear artistry, skilful arrangements, hummable melodies, and/or carefully-chosen lyrics that crystallize some mood in a way that seems just right, that conveys some truth you maybe already know but could never have expressed so well. Then there’s the kind of song that you think, reasonably, should probably not be able to move you quite as it does. It seems a little too easy, too pat; it haunts you, in part, because you can’t explain the emotion by breaking it down into smaller parts, there’s so little there to begin with.
The songs of Brian Borcherdt are of the latter category. That doesn’t mean they’re some kind of quasi-mystical entities operating on a purely subliminal level. There are some clear ways in which they work technically. The sparse arrangements and repetitive melodies leave ample room for Borcherdt’s vocals, which, oscillating between the yearning upper registers of Neil Young and the earthbound wistfulness of Jeff Tweedy, account at least to some extent for the music’s pervasive, haunting qualities.
There’s also the music’s unusually focussed intensity. Borcherdt’s oevrue—an EP called Moth, released in 1999 to commemorate the death of a friend, and two LPs, both titled The Remains of Brian Borcherdt—seems to arise all from a single place. Borcherdt has a few notes, a few snatches of melody that he keeps coming back to over the course of these albums—but these seem to be, rather than the self-plagarism of the unimaginative, instead a deliberate stringency that evokes the narrow, resonant rooms of introspection. This is true even when there is a fair bit of variety in the song’s actual arrangements, as on the first Remains LP, where heavy rock trades off with cheesy drum machine-based electropop and sparse voice-and-acoustic interludes. Borcherdt’s thin, quavery voice even manages a nice bit of screaming on “New Mexico”.
But even on these heavier songs, the music is consistently carried by the subtleties of Borcherdt’s vocals, which, even with metal crashing down around them, act as the one clear strain that draws the listener into the song and holds her there. The same quality is also suggested by the simple, repeating arrangements, a few chords that keep rising and returning, a kind of refrain of loss that keeps swelling out of reach and coming back to itself. The narratives of love and regret that frame the songs lyrically are almost beside the point, more mutely gestural than contextual. There is, in these albums, very little to hold onto concretely, very little to lay fixed claim to.
Which almost seems to be the point: “Oftentimes the lyrics come afterwards,” says Borcherdt. “To me the songs are really about the moment when I was first writing the melody in my head; sitting on a friend’s bed in another city, or standing at the edge of a stage at some festival in, like, Wisconsin. The angle the sun was at, that point on a summer evening, the smell, whatever. It’s not about the lyrics at all.”
Maybe that makes Borcherdt sound like some too-fey-for-this-world singer-songwriter whose talent is inextricably bound up with a broken, awkward persona. This couldn’t be further from the truth. To watch the Remains of Brian Borcherdt play is to see a deft performer navigate the spaces between connecting with the audience and carrying the music across. Borcherdt looks and sounds like someone who has spent long enough onstage to know how to convey intimacy through inanimate objects. Taking the opening slot on a Dependent Music tour, Borcherdt can command an audience of 1000+ Wintersleep fans with a low wail and a long stare. Once he’s got their attention, he’ll hang back from the mike and murmur a few bars looking at the floor as if he’d forgotten them. Then, milking the tension for all its worth, pull out of range of the monitors entirely, mouth still chewing out the note.
Nor is Borcherdt a stranger to the kind of high-energy projects that demand a more uncomplicated stage presence. His noise-rock band, Holy Fuck—cobbled together with members of Wintersleep, By Divine Right, and Blue Rodeo—goes right for the stomach in straight-up, pogo-till-you-puke jams. Formed in 2004 almost as a joke (the band took the stage at Toronto’s NXNE before they had ever played a note together), Holy Fuck took off in a way no one seems to have expected. They’ve toured the UK with Wolf Parade, collaborated with anti-pop artist MC Beans, and played at festivals ranging from CMJ - Pop Matters


In 2008, most people heard word of Brian Borcherdt because of his experimental "side" project Holy Fuck - widely known in the blogosphere for, well, being generally awesome, as well as for participating in Radiohead's Nude remix challenge. Oh, and Holy Fuck was also nominated for (and I have to say it: robbed of) this year's Polaris Prize. But what a lot of people probably don't know is that Brian Borcherdt has a hauntingly stunning singing voice that requires little more than a few strings accompanying it to produce wonderful sounds that you want to hear over and over again. And that's where he got his start.
I first heard Brian Borcherdt about four years ago when he released his solo album The Remains Of Brian Borcherdt and must have seen him perform that album a half dozen time in a span of a few months at various showcases. His voice in a live setting is truly something to behold - really luscious and layered with vocal effects, but sounding just as great bare, on its own. Then Holy Fuck grew wings and I was left to wonder if there'd be any more of the soft stuff of his that I love so much...well, here it is.
Coyotes was released just last week on October 7 and it's STUNNING. According to the label's bio, the songs were recorded in a good friend's living room, touched up a tiny bit with additional instrumentation, and pressed as is - no fancy after effects or glossy production.
My favourite track on the album is the title track, which has a wonderful strings arrangement and the most tender vocals - they're barely spoken at all. All seven of the album's songs are worth a listen and have been getting repeat plays in recent weeks. Have a listen on MySpace and don't miss the chance to see Brian perform the tracks live if he's passing through your city on one of the tour dates below!
Canadian Tour Dates:
October 25 @ Halifax Pop, Halifax
November 28 @ Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver
November 30 @ Grand Theatre, Calgary
December 1 @ Myer Horowitz Theatre, Edmonton
December 2 @ Broadway Theatre, Saskatoon
December 3 @ Pyramid Cabaret, Winnipeg
December 5 @ Gig Theatre, Kitchener
December 6 @ Danforth Music Hall, Toronto
Links:
MySpace: Brian Borcherdt
MySpace: Holy Fuck
Record Label: Hand Drawn Dracula

- Much Music - Oct 2008


Brian Borcherdt
Coyotes
BY LIISA LADOUCEUR October 15, 2008 11:10
EDITORIAL RATING:

Why is there an owl on the cover of an album called Coyotes? And how did Holy Fuck’s Brian Borcherdt manage to squeeze in making a new solo record into his ridiculous international touring schedule? Neither mystery compares to those wrapped inside this treasure of a record, the anti-thesis of Holy Fuck’s instrumental freak-outs. The most intimate of his personal recordings yet — you can hear his fingers move over the fretboard, the creaks of his chair — Coyotes is the cry of little things as captured by one voice and guitar in someone’s living room. On the plaintive title track, his vocals break — liberated, finally, by the simplest of string accompaniment. This gives way to the sorrowful melodies of “The Drugs” and “Evil Twin,” buoyed by piano and ethereal background vocals, respectively. Not so much haunting as haunted, these seven songs demand you lean in closer. And while it can be claustrophobic in there, trapped with Borcherdt’s anxieties and unease, the music’s fragility is never tentative or too precious. On Coyotes, Borcherdt’s expletives are no less potent for being hushed.

- On Disc - Oct 2008


Discography

the Moth EP - 2004
The Remains of Brian Borcherdt Vol 1 - 2005
The Remains of Brian Borcherdt Vol 2 - April 2006
Coyotes - Brian Borcherdt - October 2008

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Bio

Brian Borcherdt began playing music in rural Nova Scotia where he founded Canada's first not for profit collaborative label, Dependent. Back then he played in loud, screamy bands and helped foster the music of his friends in bands such as Wintersleep. Running away from Nova Scotia, Brian dabbled in the exciting world of film editing, working alongside visionaries like Walter Murch and Michael Ondaatje. In the end this experience just inspired him to go back to what he loved most, music. After a few years with Canadian indie pioneers By Divine Right Brian went off on his own to pursue two projects, the world touring, Polaris/ Juno nominated Holy Fuck as well as his own solo career.
While his solo career is worlds apart from experimental Holy Fuck both show a bold focus. Where Holy Fuck is uncompromising in its weirdo beat driven noise, his solo work is uncompromising in its sparse, moody aesthetic.

Coyotes was recorded by long time friend Jose Contreras of By Divine Right. While on a break from Holy Fuck's tour schedule Brian performed a handful of recently written songs in Jose's living Room. Most of the final selections were first takes. Little else was added to the sparse guitar and vocal, maintaining the song's intimate and delicate atmosphere. The album's textural paper sleeve features original artwork by James Mejia, perfectly complimenting the haunting tone of these seven songs.