Friday, December 17, 2010

Foxes In Fiction (SCQ's Year-End Questionnaire Part I)

Warren Hildebrand packs some serious scope into just about everything he does. For one thing, the twenty-two tracks of his successful full-length Swung From the Branches permitted Hildebrand’s slow blossom from ambient-composer into indie-electronic songwriter. How about another; the man behind Foxes In Fiction also runs his own cassette label Orchid Tapes which has unveiled six records since, um, September. And finally, Hildebrand gives plenty of scope to SCQ’s year-end questionnaire, explaining his top album choices as well as the super-nostalgic/weirdly-touching back-story behind Swung From the Branches’ title. (Photo by Rachel Renda)

SCQ: Every list-lover's favourite question: what are your top albums of 2010? Feel free to include any older yet worthy records you discovered this year.

WH: I don’t usually find myself keeping up to date with a lot of the music that is released throughout the year, as most of the time I’m tied up with sifting through a lot of older musicians and records. It’s not rare that it’ll be three or four months (or even years) after a record is released that I’ll finally get around listening to it. My timeframe for digesting new music is even slower (the ones that take the longest are usually the ones that I end up loving the most) and it can sometimes take me even longer to write about why I like certain music (but I discovered if I change my font to Futura in Microsoft Word I’m more inclined to write more because everything looks nice in this font and it doesn’t remind me of doing schoolwork). But anyways, here are a few albums that I really ended up adoring during 2010 (so far, and in no particular order).

1. Coma Cinema – Blue Suicide (2010)

One of the nicest things that happened to me in 2010 was not only meeting Mat Cothran of Coma Cinema and being able to start a collaborative side project with him called Coma Foxes, but also discovering the albums that he makes. His ability to wrap pop songs with insightful and dark lyrics has made this and his other albums some of my favourite ever.

2. Deerhunter – Halcyon Digest (2010)

The amazing thing about being a fan of the Atlas Sound / Deerhunter cannon is that there are never huge gaps between releases, and everything they do release is incredibly good. Earthquake, the airy and chilling opening track, is probably my favourite song of 2010. Even as I write this Bradford has just posted his third free album as Atlas Sound in three days. I think I’m gonna cry.

3. MGMT – Congratulations (2010)

I can understand how critics and old MGMT fans would have dismissed this album right away, as there isn’t anything like the immediate catchy pop stuff of their first album on it that grabs you right away. But the magical thing about this album is that the more you listen to it (according to my iTunes which I’ve had running since Sept. 2009, this is my most listened-to album) the more it opens itself up to you and reveals what is really is: a beautiful written psychedelic nod to the experimental pop music of the 60s and 70s. I really hope that anyone who initially wrote this off will go back and listen to it again.

4. RxRy – RxRy (2010)

There’s already almost a year between now and when I first came across this album. Listening to it now brings me back to a morning when I walked home from my best friends house in the early hours of the morning in the suburbs of Toronto. The air was cold and fresh and there was fog settling on the frosted grass everywhere. Every now and then the sun would peak out between the rows of houses and I kept on wishing to myself that I had a camera with me to help document this incredibly beautiful private moment. But instead I had this album playing on my headphones and listening back to it produces a mental document of that morning more vivid than any photograph.

5. Gold Panda – Lucky Shiner (2010)

I have little understanding as to how Gold Panda was able to put together such a warm and complete album of what is essentially electronic music. I think a big reason why this appeals to me so much is its’ obvious influence from minimal techno stuff like The Field. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing that his influences are so apparent sometimes; I of all people should know that.

6. Chihei Hatakeyama – Ghostly Garden (2010)

I obviously partition a lot of my time listening ambient music, so I’m really thankful that someone so graceful and prolific as Chihei Hatakeyama exists. He’s the creator of some hauntingly beautiful tonal landscapes that I understand is made up mostly of treated acoustic instruments. These songs can fill the air around my apartment at any time and feel fitting.

7. Benoit Pioulard – Lasted (2010)

I have nothing but praises to sing about this record. There’s a cohesiveness and refined nature to this album that’s a lot more present than on his first two records, and it’s overall autumnal feel fits pretty perfectly with this time of year. Benoit Pioulard was likely my favourite musician throughout this whole year.

8. iamamiwhoami

None of these song exist as a complete physical release (yet?) but ever since these videos began showing up on the elusive iamamiwhoami YouTube channel earlier this year, I’ve been captivated by the weirdness and beauty behind them. Not only are the song that go with them some of the most exciting electronic music I’ve heard in song time (remember how everyone thought they were secret productions of The Knife? Stylistically, it’s not far off and the team behind them are also Swedish) but the visuals that go along with them are as disarming as they are cryptic. I’m really excited to see what becomes of this whole project.

9. Memoryhouse – The Years / Choir of Empty Rooms (2010)

Despite this only being a four song EP, the overall effect of this release can’t be understated; an incredibly graceful home-recorded collection of beautifully written lamentations that is easy to fall in love with multiple times over. Also being from southern Ontario, I feel a bit of a kindred spirit with their music and their process and doing a style of music that is very much removed the stylistic norm of where we’re both from. Memoryhouse’s ‘other’ release from this year, Choir of Empty Rooms is a perfect collection of some gorgeous ambient compositions that Evan makes

10. Mount Kimbie – Crooks & Liars (2010)

After attending a few dubstep shows in Toronto and New York over the summer that were mostly populated by fucked up teenagers and junior club kids, finding something that’s much more of a return to stuff like Burial is a breath of fresh air from the synth-bass heavy club production-bangers stuff that dubstep has deviated into. I don’t know if I’m really boring or lame but I like to be able to listen to electronic music in a context that doesn’t involve seeing it live and/or being on a lot of chemical drugs.

SCQ: What were you listening to a lot of while recording your excellent album Swung From the Branches?

WH: That’s really kind of you to say, thank you. Laurie Anderson’s Big Science, Broadcast’s Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age, Casino Versus Japan’s self titled album, the soundtrack to Mysterious Skin by Harold Budd and Robin Guthrie, J Dilla’s Donuts and Arthur Russell’s World of Echo are the main ones that come to mind.

It’s been a year since I started recording Swung from The Branches, which seems crazy, but I can remember at the time that I started on it I was in a state of rapid-shifting emotional flatness, agitation and depression and I was still getting used to living by myself in the city and going to a new school. I think this was reflected in a lot of the music I was listening to at the time, which was either very minimal in nature or very dark or came from people with dark stories or circumstance behind them; J Dilla and Arthur Russell both died or descended into illness shortly after making those records, and there’s something about that that shows in their albums. Having dealt with the effects of death so closely over the months freshly past, those sort of ideas fit in with how I was feeling and inspired me to use creativity to push through my own emotional bullshit. It sounds really melodramatic but I was taking a lot of baths at like 5 in the morning while listening to all this music in the dark and just absorbing them and really letting them get to me. I listen back to Swung From The Branches now and it strikes me as a very dark album. Even the happier songs are actually about really sad things like desperation or confusion. It makes sense to me now though. I was trying to make something to purge a lot of pain and sadness that I had in my life and I guess you could say it worked. I have different things to worry about now but I’ve literally never been happier than I am at this point in my life.

SCQ: Be cocky for once in your life: what was the finest thing you did all year? That moment where you actually thought "shit, I nailed that..."?

WH: I don’t think the effect of everything that’s happened this year truly hit me until I went to CMJ Fest in New York this past October. I think up until that point everything seemed very wild and surreal but in a distant and abstract way, but being there and actually having people come out to my performances who knew my music and meeting all the great people I’d been talking to over the internet for the past half a year or so was one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had. Playing my first show for CMJ at Glasslands right after being on a bus for 12 hours and not having gotten any sleep the night before because of a Deerhunter concert and still having people come up to me and tell me how much they liked my set was probably one of the coolest things that’s ever happened to me. Also, roadtripping with Benoit Pioulard from Toronto to Montreal was really cool.

SCQ: Effect and Cause: Ottawa suffered a weeklong heatwave in early July that pushed people without A/C, like myself, into public places. Wandering the cool aisles of a local supermarket, I relaxed through the seventy-one minute entirety of your record in what felt like a gentle twenty minutes. Okay, your turn: confess a true tale that inspired one of the songs from Swung From the Branches.

WH: This is a great question and that is an even better story. A lot of the songs were written in the moment and didn’t have much of a story behind them, but everything that did I’ve written about at length on a post in my MySpace ( However, I’ll explain the story behind the title of the album, which I haven’t done before. Actually, I only told someone this earlier tonight for the first time.

The album title (and lyric ‘swung from the branches’ in Jimi Bleachball) comes from a memory I have of when I used to live in the house that my mom and brother lived in after we moved back to Oakville, Ontario in 2005 after living on a farm in rural Ontario for three years. When it was nighttime my brother and I would sneak out of the house through the backdoor and through the backyard to get over the fence to go meet up with friends to smoke pot or whatever. To get to the other side where the sidewalk was, you have to climb up and swing yourself over the fence using the branches of an overhanging tree that was right in front of it. I thought that that image worked as a good overall idea for what I wanted this album to be for myself and to people to heard it; a point of leverage to help get oneself to the other side.

SCQ: If all the reasonable and implausible ideas in your head came to fruition in 2011, what would they be?

WH: 1. Finding a way to repay all the amazing bloggers and writers who had nothing but kind things to say about my music.

2. Assembling a cast of friends and fellow musicians for the Foxes in Fiction live band and ensuing tour in 2011.

3. Complete recording the multiple releases I have planned in my mind, hopefully without any more gear breaking down on me.

4. Get back on a regular sleeping schedule.

5. See more of my close friends and family.

6. Refine my ability to play both the piano and the drums that I have sitting in my basement at home.

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