Three albums into the Canadian electro-rockers career and their name still makes for the best lede.
It makes for repetitive reading, but three albums and an EP into Holy Fuck’s career and their name still makes for the best lede. It’s fitting though, as it’s the first thing you’re faced with when talking about this band, and some might argue it’s the only reason anyone remembers their unmemorable take on electro-rock. It’s not just the obscenity that sets them apart -- Fuck Buttons, Fucked Up, and Psychedelic Horseshit all have obscene names that fit with their sound. What makes “Holy Fuck” a band name with so much more to live up to is the fact that it is nothing but expletive. Whereas the others operate well -- Fuck Buttons do indeed mix the saccharine and the harsh; Fucked Up make some very intense hardcore (or: talk about how “fucked up” the world is); and Psychedelic Horseshit shows the group’s psychedelic noise tendencies with a delicious tinge of self-awareness -- “Holy Fuck” is, at best, what you’re presumably supposed to say when you hear the band for the first time. If Latin is the group’s first record you listen to, however, chances are you won’t be saying that.
For the uninitiated, Holy Fuck do their best to approximate electronic music with live instruments: the usual guitar/bass/drums lineup and a smattering of other devices (cheap keyboards, prepared synths, etc.). Considering that, it makes sense that the group’s gained the stigma of a band best seen live. On record, the sound itself is not appreciably different from their sample-based peers, and musically comes off far less tight than laptop electronica, leaving Latin somewhere between neo-prog and early-oughts dance-rock.
The movement towards a more straightforward pop/rock guise suits the band well. They’ve largely ditched the Broken Social Scene-esque mixing of post-rock structure into standard-rock songs and as a result are decidedly more rockist. Holy Fuck’s muscular rhythm section is really flexing itself here; the songs pulse, chug, and bounce as appropriate. Even on the album’s more mellow tracks (“Latin America” and “P.I.G.S.”), the rhythm section holds together floating synths and Go! Team-esque keyboard work. These tracks (along with opener “MD”) make up the more experimental side of the album’s oeuvre, drawing closer to the droney electronic of Fuck Buttons than to the rock they so deftly explore elsewhere.
Nowhere do they explore the essence of “rock” quite as well as they do on “Red Lights". Built around a throbbing bassline and pounding drums, the song’s verses embrace twitchy post-punk and soaring synths while the bouncing chorus hits all the right spots. Similarly impressive is the poorly-titled (seeing a trend here) “SHT MTN". Built around a fuzzed-out guitar line, it’s the only song on the record to sound vaguely noisy, but it doesn’t bother with any sort of “experimental” structure; the rhythm section motors along while the synths and guitars slowly build, all accompanied by the only discernible vocal line on the album -- a robotic voice repeating “H-O-L-Y F-U-C-K".
That they choose to use a robotic voice in one of the few instances they aren’t purely instrumental brings to mind another band who recently made “rock” into something unironic and modern: Battles. Where Battles brought something slightly more cerebral to the table, Holy Fuck is content to make the pop-rock equivalent of that. Their robotic, muscular stylings -- lacking any cheesy vocal content -- allows them to make music that decidedly “rocks” without any of the irony that comes along with traditional rock and roll in today’s scene. Still, the production leaves Latin a bit flat at times, and not every song is as memorable as a good pop-rock song needs to be. It’s nice to see the group moving in a new direction, but for a band with such a confrontational name it’s disappointing how little passion they inspire.