Every time I start to listen to Ontario Gothic, I have to immediately turn the volume up. And that’s because the album is so incredibly unimposing; at first it seems like it’s afraid of taking up too much space. But as the LP unfolds, it begins to patiently reveal itself for what it is: an immensely personal, intricately woven sonic puzzle, each track nodding in some way to another; each track reliant on the album’s form, reliant on the listener’s context. It’s the kind of album that, if you really listen to it, can become one of the most intriguing and important pieces of music released so far this year. Ontario Gothic can be what you need it to be.
Foxes In Fiction is the project of Warren Hildebrand, one of the guys behind the Brooklyn label Orchid Tapes, who has produced albums for the likes of Los Angeles Police Department, R.L. Kelly and Alex G. The album’s themes are heavy, dealing with death (specifically the death of Hildebrand’s younger brother in 2008), the process of grieving, isolation and uncertainty. But there’s an emergence from this weight at the core of these songs, which begin to feel like self-contained ecosystems of nostalgia. The LP’s opening track, March 2011, pairs foggy and textured vocals with dusted keys that sound like the cranked output of a music box. It’s a raw song, effectively constructing the beams on which the following six tracks can build. From there, Into The Fields melts into view, Hildebrand’s layered and concave vocals creating a soft, cotton gauze plushly cradling delicate guitar work.
After the waning sunset march of Shadow Song, the title track encapsulates the album’s sound. It debrides past wounds with bruised keyboards while luxuriating in thickly stacked harmonies and Owen Pallett’s quietly extravagant string arrangements. It’s a complex track, tightly enmeshed in the fabric of itself, nodding to both present and past Foxes In Fiction work. Ontario Gothic collages the melody from Shadow’s Song and pulls instrumental elements from Breathing In, a Foxes In Fiction song that appeared on a 2013 Orchid Tapes compilation. Hildebrand’s soft-focus intensity on Glow (v079) teeters on the edge of ambient house territory, folding slight synth jabs into a cozy wash of static. The small moments nestled into the thick of Ontario Gothic seem endless.
Ontario Gothic doesn’t need to be mysterious or unusual. It’s important that this album is coming out at the end of September, because it sounds like it was made for transitional, unmoored moments when suddenly it feels like the ground has shifted under your feet. This is an album for everyone and it’s an album for no one specific. On the LP’s final track, Alter, members of Orchid Tapes’ Julia Brown appear for a collective effort; verses that lilt and a chorus that surges with the feeling of being part of something. Ontario Gothic is an amazingly precise, contextually aware work that’s very easy to listen to as just beautiful music, but it’s also an album that asks the listener to try for more.