Though heavy, ‘Ontario Gothic’ heals

From the start, Warren Hildebrand of Foxes in Fiction has been honest about his new album’s subject matter: loss. Three years in the making, the seven songs comprising “Ontario Gothic” each deal with an instance of grief or death.

The result, though, is anything but morbid: Instead, Hildebrand evokes acceptance and healing with every word.

Hildebrand notably co-runs and founded the bedroom pop label Orchid Tapes in 2010, which has released albums from artists like Elvis Depressedly, Ricky Eat Acid, Infinity Crush and, this summer, Alex G.

The label’s debut release, however, was Foxes in Fiction’s own “Swung From the Branches” in 2010, an album heavily influenced by the passing of Hildebrand’s teenage brother in 2008. At this time in Hildebrand’s life, he began to rework the sound of his project away from the sample collage project he had intended it to be since its creation in 2005 at the age of 15; Instead, he rethought Foxes in Fiction and molded it into a vehicle of healing and emotional resonance.

Though Foxes in Fiction continues to use experimental composition to create a psychologically restorative effect, this release departs from the electronic loops and deep hums of “Branches;” instead, “Ontario Gothic” is cleaner and more cohesive, perhaps representative of Hildebrand’s own healing process in making this project.

The album begins with a repetitive, soothing melody, a sound in some aspects typical to Hildebrand’s project.

If the calming ambiance of the first song weren’t enough, some of the first lyrics on “March 2011”—carefully sung, beats enunciated–call for solace: “Safe beneath the shade / heal this part of me.” “March 2011” resonates almost as a mantra or a reminder, and the atmospheric buildup in the middle of the song eventually lulls back into a slow variation of the opening melody.

This ebb and flow from simple melodies to deeper layering continues throughout the album, which is what most clearly provides the calm Hildebrand intends. The transitioning is beautiful—the second track, “Into The Fields,” flows seamlessly into “Glow (v079)” with enough sonic difference to allow you to realize that you’re now listening to the next song.

The songs as separate entities are not, to me, what are most captivating here; instead, the transitions or, in some instances, brief silences between songs allow time for reflection upon the album as an experience.

My favorite part of “Gothic” and, in my opinion, the most important part is the transitioning from the somewhat musically-standard track “Shadow’s Song” into “Ontario Gothic.” Lyrically, “Shadow’s Song” is haunting; it discusses succumbing to fear or a lack of strength.

Unlike some of Hildebrand’s tracks, which reflect on his losses with a note of acceptance or moving forward, this track depicts a moment of weakness.

However, once the four-minute song passes the three-minute mark, we are hit with the most resonant melody of the album: slow at first, cyclical, and perhaps most reminiscent of “Swung from The Branches,” it begins again—more quickly, rather staccato in comparison—with the start of the title track. Upon first listen, here, I felt most emotionally connected to the album.

“Ontario Gothic” is arguably the strongest track of the album. Hildebrand released the track on his blog a couple of months early—it’s after listening to this track that I was kept in anticipation and actually decided to preorder the Sept. 23 vinyl release. With his release of the track, he discussed the significance of the song, and, by extension, the dedication of the album.

Both are about the loss of his close friend, Caitlin, in 2010; he discusses how she opened him up to happiness during what he describes as the most difficult period of his life up until that point (2004).

They eventually drifted apart before her death, so he wrote this song to pass on the same healing effect that she gave to him—and it works.

The haunting melody from “Shadow’s Song” continues to weave in and out, and the lyrics tell the story of their friendship clearly; the last two lines with which we are left are “These parking lots bless us with peace / Your light has strayed, there’s no release.”

Ultimately, the musical sound of the album, though different from his last release, is not strikingly unique—if you passively enjoyed “Ontario Gothic,” you could find artists with a similar tone, perhaps even, most obviously, on Orchid Tapes.

Additionally, with the exception of a couple of tracks, the songs don’t stand alone; this isn’t a collection of singles.

However, the album as a whole does something more significant: It does what it sets out to do, it heals. There has been many a night where, sleepless at 3 a.m., I’ve put on Foxes in Fiction to “soothe my soul,” so to speak.

Never before, though, have I felt this emotionally and psychologically connected to one of Hildebrand’s releases.

Though it certainly sounds—and is—cliché to say, this album is emotionally cathartic…or it can be, if you listen and it means something to you.

If you have ever experienced loss or grief in any capacity, whether in terms of death or something else entirely, “Ontario Gothic” has the potential to heal you, if only for half an hour. I’m certainly looking forward to receiving my order soon and calming restless 3 a.m. nights to come.

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