HOLY FAWN - DEATH SPELLS

To the friend who recommended me Holy Fawn: you were right that this is extremely my thing. I wish I remembered which friend you are though. (Signal me if you read this?)

Holy Fawn delivers exquisite atmospheres with soaring vocal lines over it all. With a Pixies-esque approach to dynamics, they effortlessly build and release. There's nothing particularly flashy in the instrumentation (except perhaps the vocals), just a quiet confidence. A solo on a release of this type would be... misplaced, I suppose. I'm sure the musicians here are quite competent in their own right of course, but the focus is more on composition and delivery of a vision free from distractions of that nature.

But that's a very analytical description of a sound that is at its core extremely emotional. Highlighting a particular part for too long risks tearing away the illusion that the world is void. Here it's worth noting that Holy Fawn's Bandcamp page proclaims two slogans that I find useful for framing: "LOUD HEAVY PRETTY NOISES", and "bury yourself alive". Shoegaze descendants of this nature are often sacrificing the delicacy of feeling evoked in order to gain "heaviness".

Consider, for instance, two bands I also enjoy greatly: Deafheaven and Slowdive. (I talked about Slowdive's latest last year.) Slowdive's music (especially their latest) is nothing if not bittersweet to me. Contrast that with Deafheaven at their most similar (Sunbather, I think; unfortunately I wasn't reviewing when that masterpiece came out) - I still find regret and nostalgia, but it's tempered, replaced with heaviness. I think a large part of this is the approach to guitar work - Deafheaven anchors more in the extreme metal tradition, frequently using strong leads and tremolo lines. I don't want to dwell too much on the choices these bands have made overmuch, except to state that Holy Fawn has made different ones. It's not like the sonic wash of Sunbather can't be heard here too, or the delayed and drenched guitar openings from Slowdive; rather, that the heaviness is a building block rather than an end goal. Deafheaven favors more Slowdive-esque passages for contrast, and they're often their own tracks (consider Irresistible as an interstitial after Dream House); Holy Fawn builds with them.

Indeed, I find the approach to heaviness more evocative of Junius (see last year, but not really because they didn't get the full post they deserved from me for that album). Junius tends to use heaviness as an atmospheric tool, adding weight (for want of a better term). Their atmospheres have an added depth as a result; much as in seasoning food, one wants more but knows that would ruin the effect. If you're into Junius, I suggest digging up a copy of Hum's "Firehead" and then listen to Junius's cover. I find the added intensity dynamics turn the song into something otherworldly - and a similar effect is taking place here. Mistake not the lack of tremolo and the predominantly clean vocals for levity because you will find none of that here.

So. Tense, resentful bittersweetness. That's side one. Side two cranks that atmospheric slider way up. This move is foreshadowed to a degree - Arrows (track 2) carries a definite Sigur Rós feel in my view - but it's also not a move at all. The tempos aren't drastically changed. Much of the tension from the first side is released, replaced with a tinge of sadness. Sonically I think it is closest to Origins/Helios | Erebus-era God Is an Astronaut (heyo 2016) and you might notice I keep bringing up post-rock bands because guess what: post-rock.

I think the best emotional descriptor for side two is resignation.

And this is why I find "bury yourself alive" such a useful ethos for this work. It's a fantastic phrase construction, sure; it evokes comparisons to Planning for Burial, which are coincidental but appropriate musically; and it's a punch in the gut. "Loud happy pretty noises" is what is happening here; "bury yourself alive" is why. This is more refined than the undisguised "kill yourself" put forth by Shining (and bands of that tradition): the combined weight of the past and hopelessness of the future are crushing. It's a crushing that's only intensified with inspection and introspection. The void will consume us whether we will it or no. We will bury ourselves alive.

This is a release I find impossible to not turn the volume up and drown out all other sensation. It will make you feel things, some of which you may have wanted and others that you probably didn't. You should listen.