For a band like Holy Fuck, whose very name hints at their limited level of appeal, a record like Congrats is pretty unexpected. To say the record marks a push toward a conventional sound is misleading, because very little about Congrats approaches convention. It is, in fact, an album of surprising flexibility and brave dynamic character, an album that finds the band releasing themselves, broadening their vision to encompass not just their established sound (namely, an oblique strand of experimental post-rock with an elaborate electronic undercurrent) but also, paradoxically, elements of buttoned-down pop architecture and the nebulous textures of noise rock. It’s an exercise in musical exploration from a band who for a long time seemed to exist in a deeply insular mindset — a sensibility that has, to this point, admittedly worked in their favor. Perhaps the best way to put it is that Congrats is not a predictable record, but that will mean different things to different people.
Let me explain. “Chimes Broken” opens the album with classic Holy Fuck vibes that find the band driving through a discordant, expertly balanced build-up not far removed from the noisy near-instrumental grooves of 2010’s excellent Latin, all with vocals, the new album’s most defining feature, pushed deep in the back of the mix. The tension ratchets up until the very last moment, after which we’re thrown into “Tom Tom”, Congrats’ lead single and quintessential track which finds raw post-punk vocals placed upfront and shaped into verses and refrains around the band’s volatile circuit. The same style returns just a few minutes later on “Xed Eyes”, one of the record’s rambunctious highlights that boasts a heady dance beat, a caustic vocal hook, and warped, industrial synthesizers. Even through all the clamor, Congrats proves that Holy Fuck can write a song that acts like a song, both in sound and structure, a fact that was, before now, undetermined.
“Neon Dad” may in fact be the album’s biggest revelation and its most conventional moment, drawing substantially more from the ethereal spaces of chillwave crooners and indie psych-heads than the fragmented fringes of math rock and ambient electronic that we expect. The song could easily be a evolution of the flowery post-rock of Latin cut “Stay Lit”, but its sultry, soft singing, glimmering guitar reverb, and melodic overtones land it closer to the spectral sentiment of hipster favorites Youth Lagoon and Washed Out. For those who expect more from the band than maudlin indie pop praxis, this may come as a disappointment; for the rest, it’s a shocking metamorphosis that serves to decimate the band’s previously narrow self-imposed creative territory.
It’s not as if Congrats suffers from a shortage of that classic Holy Fuck sound, either. “Shivering”, though it introduces dreamy melodic singing to the album, also features a chattering, highly-modulated vocal that will feel awfully familiar to fans of Latin. After an ear-splitting five-second intro, “House of Glass” swims into the kind of elegant funk groove the band has always excelled at but never explored as much as they should. “Caught Up” is the album’s climax and closer, a full-throttle crescendo into the tempest of melodic noise that only Holy Fuck faithful can fully appreciate. The album shows the band expanding, not utterly transforming.
Overall, Congrats acts more as a proof-of-concept than as a proper successor to Latin. It’s a statement of versatility from a band whose limited success previously came from forerunning a very narrow, specialized sound. It’s a testament to the unsung facets of Holy Fuck’s artistry, a display of their immense capabilities as not just the visceral sonic craftsmen they’re already recognized as but also as songwriters, a far more conventional but equally valuable space for the band to occupy. If the album doesn’t cohere quite as masterfully as the meticulously calibrated pieces of Latin, it only adds to the urgency and raw confidence of the moves made on Congrats. It may very well be the first step in Holy Fuck’s new evolution, but it’s a step well worth taking.