Review: Foxes in Fiction – Ontario Gothic

Warren Hildebrand doesn’t need this. Had Foxes in Fiction remained dormant for 2014, the year would still have been one to remember for Hildebrand by virtue of the sheer quality of output from his record label, Orchid Tapes.

Hildebrand has overseen, and in some cases mastered, releases from luminaries Ricky Eat Acid and arrange among others. In short: Foxes in Fiction doesn’t need to exist for Warren Hildebrand to be one of the most relevant people in the world of “bedroom pop” today.

Yet, exist it does and rightfully so, because Foxes in Fiction is where it all started for Orchid Tapes and it is also where they crown a triumphant 2014. “Reinvent the past” Hildebrand sings through his ever-hushed voice on album opener “March 2011”, and to an extent that is what he’s doing here; Ontario Gothic functions as a spiritual successor to the last proper Foxes in Fiction release, 2011’s Alberto.

Make no mistake: this album is far and away better than Alberto. Ontario Gothic improves on every element that made its predecessor a good album and turns it into a great album, one that is more assured and features Hildebrand’s all-encapsulating whispered vocals more prominently.

Being Warren Hildebrand has its perks, one of which is being able to call on baroque pop royalty like Owen Pallett to augment the woozy instrumentation, mostly done by Hildebrand.

Pallett, formerly known as Final Fantasy, ironically stands out most on the album’s title track, his violin adding to the hope in Hildebrand’s lyrics over a decidedly Final Fantasy VII-esque synth. “We’ll change where we live in the fall/Soon it will feel like nothing is wrong”, Hildebrand sings on “Ontario Gothic”, sounding as hopeful as he can, though he later closes the song crushingly, admitting “these parking lots bless us with peace/your light has strayed there’s no release”.

Ontario Gothic is an exercise in dealing with loss and grief. Hildebrand’s brother died six years ago, and the album is dedicated to the memory of family friend Caitlin Amanda Morris, who died in 2010. On album closer “Altars” sings “in dreams he’s still here” hauntingly. Assisted by Julia Brown vocalists Sam Ray (a/k/a Ricky Eat Acid) and Caroline White, singer Rachel Levy, a/k/a R.L. Kelly, the song closes out what is an emotionally raw 32 minutes.

Hildebrand has spoken of making a “more direct” version of what he calls “healing pop” with this effort and he has done just that. The ebb and flow ambient of his debut Swung from the Branches is gone, only to be replaced by the pop songs that came on the back of that record. For an album to be so wrought with emotion, it’s no surprise Hildebrand could only produce seven songs in the three years it took to record.

Guitars drone and synths flow all over the album to create a dreamy yet cathartic landscape. From the Wonder Bear-sampling “Glow (v079)” to the reminiscing of “Into the Fields”, you’re unlikely to hear an album more devastating, but beautiful this year.

Ontario Gothic was released on Orchid Tapes on September 23rd.

Odrán de Bhaldraithe

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